Brian Keaney

Tag: youth enrichment services

Out of the mouths of kiddos

I do all the warm up drills with the kids except skipping. I refuse to skip.

This morning on the bus a little girl I’ve seen many times before got on, per usual, with her Justin Beiber backpack strapped on to her shoulders.  Normally this wouldn’t merit a second look, but her neon orange socks were matched by a t-shirt of the same color.  Even then, the only reason I cared was that I saw that shirt being distributed the night before but somehow never noticed her at the distribution site.

After the little snow New England saw this winter finally melted away, it seemed like my volunteering days with YES would be put on hold until next ski season.  They have a full lineup of summer activities, but all of them are during weekdays.  Or so I thought.  Turns out they have a track and field team that meets twice a week in the evening.  Even though I’ve never run track, I missed working with the kids and signed up.

The kids range in age from four to 14, and I think there are even a few three-year-olds thrown in there.  Had you asked me at the beginning of the season  which group I did not want, I would have told you the really little ones.  They are fun in short doses, but I thought I would get more out of it working with the older kids.  Turns out I was wrong, and that the four- and five-year-olds keep me both constantly smiling and forever trying to make sense of the senseless knock knock jokes they find so hilarious.  (I wasn’t wrong about the short doses thing, though.  By the time practice is over they are about ready to be done and I am about done trying to organize chaos.)

After practice last night they started handing out t-shirts to some of the kids, and it was one such shirt that I saw on the bus this morning.  Turns out that if your child attends enough of this absolutely free program where they get to make new friends, exercise, and learn the fundamentals of a sport that could bring them eternal high school glory (and who knows, maybe even a trip to the Olympics), they get a free t-shirt. How is that for an enticement to get them to make 10 practices or meets where they have everything to gain and nothing to lose?

They also had some embroidered polo shirts for the coaches.  It was a very nice gesture, and one that I should have been more appreciative of, but earlier events that evening made it all but impossible.  Several weeks ago the other coach who works regularly with the little ones told me that the kids “adored me.”  I didn’t believe her, but in fairness that didn’t stop me from bragging to my sisters that I was an object of adoration.  They, not unexpectedly, had a reaction that could be described as something short of adoring.

Last night I began to think that my fellow coach may have been on to something.  While keeping some sort of order as the kids jumped over hurdles that could be hidden by tall grass, one of the four-year-olds came up behind me and hugged my leg.  Initially taken a little aback, I looked down and smiled at her.  It was then that she looked those big blue eyes up at me and said, “You’re doing a great job, kiddo.”

Where she came up with a line like that I have no idea, but it sure meant a whole lot more to me than any polo shirt ever will.


Great Day

When I moved back to New England from my island paradise, it was with the intention of becoming a teacher.  Only a day after landing I arrived at the MTEL testing site in Quincy at 7 am, though my jetlagged body thought it was 1 am, and I passed on the first try.  While it was not an experience I’d particularly like to repeat, it was memories of my days as a substitute – and the idea of making teaching a full time vocation – prior to my departure for that small rock in a big ocean that made it worthwhile.

During one such day at a middle school a gym teacher requested that I fill in for him.  While not my favorite class to sub, it did have its benefits.  One of those pluses was that there was a radio in the gym, and the music the students chose was usually tolerable.  I also really liked this particular group of kids, and was always glad to spend a period or two with them.

On this particular day a large group of 7th grade girls who were waiting their turn to get in the game decided it wasn’t enough to push the limits of acceptable volume while playing Daniel Powter’s Bad Day, so they also decided to sing along.  About halfway through I took a momentary respite from my refereeing duties to ask them to turn the radio down for a moment and then inquired,  “Who sings this song?”


With a solitary voice they loudly proclaimed the singer’s name and, when I told them that they should keep it that way, they sent up a barrage of mock indignation as only a group of 13 year old girls can do.  To this day I think about those girls every time I hear the song, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.  I was also reminded of them today when teaching a very different set of girls a slightly different skill.

This morning I taught my first lesson as a volunteer ski instructor with Youth Enrichment Services.  It was a unique experience with four students ranging in abilities and ages far beyond what should normally be placed in a class together, but somehow I muddled through, and I think at least half of them gained something from the class.  One was simply too good for me to really be able to teach much to, and the other was good enough that I focused on the two who needed the most help, regrettably to her detriment.

It was also a learning experience for me, as I was acutely aware that I was responsible for their safety during an activity that may have given me my first concussion a few weeks ago. (Since I don’t believe in medicine I never had it checked out, and thus will never know for sure, but I think the memory loss and scar on my forehead is a pretty good indication there was.)  I also discovered my own limits as an instructor in what I was able to teach, how well I was able to teach it, and how I was able to – or not – combine both a general lesson and some individualized instruction in the few short hours I had with them.

Part of the problem with the varying ability levels in the class was that this was the first time some of the girls had been with the program, and thus we had to rely on their self-reporting for placement purposes.  They all were graded by me at the end of the lesson, so now at least there is a somewhat objective baseline for their future trips.

I was also trying to take stock of my own abilities, of what worked and what didn’t work, so that I can try and measure my own improvement over the course of the ski season.  During my half hour of monitoring the bunny slope this afternoon I know I became more adept at skiing backward (I was carving some pretty nice turns), and I hope that by the Last Run I can say my teaching skills will have improved at least as much.

Perchance to dream

A couple years ago I made a concerted effort to read all the books I was supposed to read in high school.  I was never a big fan of homework, and I got by all right simply by paying attention in class.  I don’t know that in four years I ever read an entire book in any class, but English was always one of my better subjects.  I’ve since come to learn to love to read, but one book I have not yet finished is The Great Gatsby.  I’ve picked it up once or twice, and even though I think I would enjoy it I’ve never made it all the way through.

Particularly after seeing Tom Hiddleston’s performance in Midnight in Paris this summer, I think I would also really enjoy the company of F. Scott Fitzgerald.   Seeing the lifestyles they led in 1920s Paris makes me wonder what his definition of “rich” is, but I have come to discover the great truth in his statement that the very rich are different from you and me.  Then again, not only am I glad that I am unlike the very rich, I also take a small amount of satisfaction in that I am different from most other people.

This winter I am volunteering with a great organization that teaches kids they can literally conquer mountains.  Youth Enrichment Services takes inner city kids to ski resorts across New England and teaches them to ski or snowboard.  While I don’t ski nearly as much as I would like to, I am on my K2s enough to know that rarely do you see someone with skin darker than mine on a chairlift.  Giving low-income, largely minority children the same opportunity I had as a kid growing up to feel the rush of racing down a mountain is better than that rush itself.

After breaking the fast with Senator Paul.

Last weekend I was in New Hampshire learning how to become a ski instructor (and inviting myself to breakfast with a United States Senator – but that’s another post) and, unlike other training trips where they stayed in a chalet, we were being housed in a local hotel.  It was nice enough, but particularly after a couple locals got a little too familiar at the bar across the street, my fellow volunteers all decided it was time to return to their rooms and crash.  Seeing as there were several hours left in Saturday night, not to mention several prime socialable hours in Sunday morning, I was not ready to retire.

In a hotel with little to do, however, I had to content myself watching the 4th quarter of an NFC game I was only partially interested in, reading a couple articles I’d been saving on my phone, and then turning out the lights well before midnight.  It was the earliest I’d been to bed in some time, and it resulted in the most sleep I’ve gotten in a while.

Each night when I go to bed it almost feels like a personal failure.  I don’t like it at all.  My tasks list never gets any shorter, and even if I was caught up there would still be plenty to do.  I’ve got a stack of books I want to read.  There are a million places I’ve never been, countless movies I’ve never seen, billions of people I’ve never met.  Not only do I not know anything about any number of subjects, there are fields of study that I don’t even know exist.  People are suffering all over the world and crying out for help, yet I am expected to spend a third of my life unconscious.

How, with all that is out there, can I possibly spend any more time than I have to asleep?  I fight it each night, even long after I have ceased being productive.  I click around in Quicken, as if I am suddenly going to gain some magical new insight into my finances by looking at the same graph 10 times.  I’ll check the same dozen websites as if anyone is awake and updating them at 2 a.m.  I search in vain for anything worthwhile to watch on TV.  I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid turning out the lights until finally, out of sheep boredom more often than not, I submit to the downturn in my circadian rhythm and close my eyes.

A few hours later I am battling the alarm clock and starting all over again.  The pile of books only grows, the to do list only gets longer, and my ignorance only decreases but slightly.  No matter what dreams may come, there is still plenty more left to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil.  I will sleep when I’m dead.