I stood in the parking lot of Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park with some 70 other volunteers. It was a cold and gray Saturday morning in early January, and I wished I had more than a light sweatshirt to keep me warm. Most everybody else seemed to feel the same way.
This was a new adventure for me. Newly retired and in search of ways to make myself useful, I joined several others from my church to chaperone foster children for this special one day event called, One Ticket. One Kid. One Day. It seemed to be something I could do but I wasn’t so sure what to expect the experience to be or how I should even conduct myself. I like kids, even though I never wanted any of my own. They can be fun. They tell stories.
My fellow chaperone, Rhonda, and I were assigned to a group of four girls and two boys, all (gasp!) teenagers. We were accompanied by Debra, the girls’ foster mom. I figured we should break the ice and introduce ourselves in a supposedly clever way. What, I asked, is the animal you most want to see?
Giraffes. They wanted to see giraffes. I, on the other hand, wanted to see elephants. I later discovered that Wildlife World Zoo does not have a single elephant. Oh, well. We began our tour of the zoo in the hope of eventually seeing the giraffes.
As the day progressed I came to realize these teenagers were fun to be around. Two of the girls were pregnant and one pushed a cute little nine-month-old girl in a stroller. Since they all lived in the same group home it was easy to see the camaraderie between them. One girl was a regular bundle of happy energy. Unlike most of us, she had been here before and knew her way around. She was the one that usually walked ahead and kept the pace for all of us, whether we sometimes liked it or not.
I was also impressed at how polite they were. I heard “Thank you” a lot when I opened doors. The guys were very friendly and easy to talk to, even though one called me Grandpa Mike. They did not seem to be brothers. I figured they came from the same group home because one simply wanted to get the other away from the TV and out of the house.
Out of the house. I found that interesting. Whatever their life situations were, it was easy to see these teens enjoyed a day out and away from whatever their troubles might be. In that, the purpose of the day had achieved its goal, and in more ways than one. My fellow volunteers and I had learned an important life lesson, to get out of our comfort zone to serve others. We, too, needed to get out of the house.
Our time together ended when the girls got on the log flume ride. They waved goodbye and thanked Rhonda and me for spending the day with them. Just for the fun of it I hung around to watch the end of their ride. Sure enough, their flume slid down from high on the track and landed on the water with a huge splash, and it looked as if every gallon of that splash landed on all four girls. Soaked to the bone, they screeched and laughed with delight. I waved, yelled my goodbyes and headed to my car. I found myself smiling.
Yeah, kids tell stories. They can be fun, too.
Michael P. Murphy
Foster Arizona Volunteer