All kinds of changes are afoot here at Chez LazyBuddhist. In addition to becoming a half-time college student, I’ve started down the path of do-goodery. In my mind, I always thought of myself as a do-gooder, but it was all intent and not much action.
Living in Richmond, California, I can see around me a lot of need. Less than a mile away from my cozy enclave of Point Richmond is the neighborhood of the Iron Triangle and the community of North Richmond. Richmond’s reputation as being a dangerous place to lives mostly comes from the crime, gangs, poverty, addiction and hopelessness in these two areas. In addition, both are directly downstream from the Chevron Refinery, so the health of the neighborhood is not good – the pediatric asthma rate in those neighborhoods are so high, hospitals may as well hand out an asthma inhaler with every new birth.
Three years ago there was a crime committed that got nationwide attention: the gang rape of a 15-year old girl at a school dance at Richmond High. Even now as I write this, my heart hurts for the girl, for our youth, and also for the community. At the time, I wanted to find some way to help to stop the cycle senseless violence that so many young people in our city seemed to be involved in. But, nothing presented itself in a way that made sense for me.
Fast forward three years later. This week I started volunteering at Richmond High as a writing coach through an amazing program called WriterCoach Connection. (Go ahead, click the link and go read about them, especially those of you in the Bay Area who are looking for a well-organized, worthy group to volunteer with. I’ll be here when you’re done.) I had learned about the organization from a couple of writer friends of mine who had volunteered with them in the Oakland schools. They both seemed to really enjoy it. So, when I learned they were expanding their program to Richmond, that’s when I knew I found my foothold into community do-goodery.
Most of the volunteers I trained with were Richmond residents – parents, grandparents, retired educators, writers – who, like me, wanted to find some way to help their community. Even after six-to-eight hours of training we were still nervous about our initial encounters with the kids. Would they like us? Would they see we had no idea what we were doing? Would they even be willing to accept our help? How am I supposed to help a kid compose a thesis statement when I barely remember what one is myself? Oh sweet Buddha, what in the hell have I gotten myself into?