When I look around YOTO, I feel so grateful. I can take a bath anytime I want.
I’ve got a kitchen. The fridge is stocked with food.
I’ve got a warm bathrobe I can wear, even on Sunday afternoon. And even though the place is home to eight of us kids, and we’ve always got counselors on-duty, I can still find a quiet place to sit and be alone.
I want to give back. It’s been about four months, not counting summer when I was with Ted, and I’ve been taking the whole time.
I’m ready to give.
I told Aadhya that I wanted to get a job so I could start paying my room and board here.
She smiled. But I could see it wasn’t a “yes” smile.
“Jazz,” she said, “It doesn’t work that way. We’re here for you, and the other kids. That’s our dharma. Your dharma is to continue your journey with your studies and your sports so that you can go to college. That’s your job right now.”
I told her I wanted to do more. She said I already do so much: cleaning, repairing stuff, making meals.
That’s nothing. That’s the business of life.
I’m a teenager. I’ve got loads of energy. I know I can do my studies, run track, help around here, and have a weekend job.
Aadhya kept saying no.
I kept the focus. I did all my regular homework and extra credit. I continued to train for track, which would be starting after winter break.
I even helped out Nadja, tutoring her in Western Civ.
“I could give a rat’s a** about Aristotle’s rhetoric!” she said. “The Greeks destroyed my people!”
But we persisted and she learned it anyway.
I stepped up when it came to helping out around YOTO. I started making rounds each morning, before the other kids got up, to see what needed doing. I like cleaning the place. It helps me remember how lucky I am to have a place to clean.
One day, Aadhya said, “Are you still interested in a job?”
Of course I was.
“It’s not outside. It’s with us. And it doesn’t pay, but it helps a lot.”
That was OK with me, because if it paid, I’d give all the money back to YOTO anyway.
“I’m not interested in working for the money,” I explained. “It’s so I’m not a free-loader.”
My heart sort of broke when I said that. I never ever thought in my life that I would be a free-loader. I always thought I would always pay my way in life, giving back, not taking.
Aadhya got real quiet and looked at me.
“Are you ashamed?” she asked.
I didn’t really answer. But I guess that was my answer.
She went on for a long time about everything I do to contribute, and I sort of closed my ears when she started talking about how I didn’t do any of this myself, and how I should be proud of myself, and it’s not my fault. I closed my ears because I know that. I don’t know that it does all that good to think about it. I can think about it when I’m by myself, because then I won’t cry. Or if I do, I’m alone, so it doesn’t matter if I cry a little bit. I’ll stop after ten tears.
But when Aadhya was talking, I knew that if I started crying I would cry for a really long time, and I am not ready to do that. So I closed my ears. And then she stopped talking and looked at me.
“So I have a proposition to make,” she said at last. “Do you think you can help us out?”
The proposition was this: YOTO wants to do a big year-end fund-raising campaign, and their social media/communications director says that the best ways to raise money is through telling the stories of the kids that live here.
She wanted to know would I help. I thought she wanted me to talk to the communications person, who would write my story. But she meant for me to write it. And not only my story, but the stories of all the kids here.
So that’s what I’m doing. It’s my new job, volunteer, for YOTO. And, if it helps to raise money for YOTO, then it pays back big-time.
I’ve decided I will start with my story. That will give me practice in writing. And then, after that, I’ll talk to Marquis and Nadja. We don’t have to use our names, but Aadhya wants us to have pictures to accompany each story.
“You’re all so damn good-looking,” she said. “Nobody can keep their preconceptions about youth without permanent residences when they look at your beautiful faces.”
I thought a lot about that: how looking in a face breaks down the preconceptions. That’s where a soul shines, and it’s hard to keep a prejudice when you can see a soul.