The year has ended and what an incredible year it has been. I’ve been spending the last few weeks ordering and mailing thank you cards from the fundraiser (they’re in they mail!), entering in financial data so that tax letters can be sent (those will be in the mail soon!) and compiling measurable outcomes for the year.
Oh measurable outcomes.
This is a list of things like:
8 children brought off of the street
26 North American volunteers
17 family visits
112 meals provided for kids currently on the street
Mainly, this list should prove that the work that an organisation is doing is worthwhile. That we are accomplishing something. But as I’m making this list, I’m thinking about all of the things that aren’t measurable, that can’t be put into a category, but are the things that I’m most proud of and excited about. I’m thinking of two stories that Lauren and Jilli shared with me recently. These are stories that you won’t find within a list of outcomes. But these are the stories that make me thankful that we do what we do. These are stories that make me shake my head and say “Exactly! THIS is what we’re here for.”
Both of these stories involve kids in a small home that we work with. The home had a graduation ceremony to celebrate the kids who have completed a year of school and are moving on to the next one. (This is a BIG deal with a group of kids who have sporadic access to education as they bounce around to different children’s homes and back onto the street. Completing a year and moving on to the next is cause for celebration.) As the ceremony was progressing, the speaker congratulated the kids for all of their hard work. “Yay! Way to go! You did it! The sky’s the limit!” (Ok, I added that last part.) But as the speaker congratulated them for accomplishing this on their own, one of the boys leaned over to Jilli and said “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.” Is it because she has spent hours and hours tutoring them? No. She helped develop the curriculum? No. She raised the money to hire the best teachers? No. She has consistently BEEN THERE. She knew the majority of them when they were still on the street and now spends a significant amount of time in the home encouraging them to keep studying, keep resisting the drugs, keep thinking about their future. And does she do this using some strategic behavioural plan? Not exactly. They have lots of conversations about their past, their future, their goals, their strengths. And they also play a lot of cards. They play a lot of soccer, (while she watches because she’s has missed the developmental window where one can learn and understand the rules). And they laugh…a lot. She knows them and they know her. This has made all the difference in the world.
And then there was Christmas. This home shut down for a few days and all kids went to stay with family. What about that one teenage boy who literally has NO family? Director’s solution: How about he stays at Jilli and Lauren’s house for a few days? Great idea! Jilli and Lauren’s reaction: Um, what? Not great idea! And yet they found themselves getting snowballed into being responsible for him for a few days. What to do, what to do? Christmas excursion to the beach! Jilli, Lauren and Baby Jesus headed to an ocean town for a few days with this extremely introverted teenager in order to avoid making the decision of whether or not it would be a good idea to let him stay in their home. All in all though, a pretty disappointing Christmas, right? His incredible shyness has prevented them from getting to know him very well. There were no Christmas decorations or cheer (except for when Lauren “helped Santa” break into his room while he was away to decorate and leave a few gifts for him to find when he got back.) This was essentially a trip that was forced on everyone, so who’s really going to enjoy it? On Christmas day, Lauren was sitting with him on the beach in silence. (I mean, seriously, this kid is SO quiet.) Out of the blue he asks her about her best Christmas. She talks for a bit, then asks him about his. “This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had.” WHAT??? I mean, how? But then he summarised all of the other Christmases in his life – they were spent on the street or in a large children’s home. This was the first year that he was safe, got to go somewhere special, was able to make some decisions about what he wanted and was with people that cared specifically about him. What Lauren and Jilli thought was bound to be a fairly lame Christmas turned out to be one of the best gifts that they could have given. And it makes my heart soar.
We will always strive to increase our measurable outcomes. We must have a fundraising goal, a volunteer development plan, and all of the things that we can measure are an important part of helping these kids become successful. But as we learn more about developing and achieving measurable outcomes, may we never, ever stop focusing on the individual child and striving to provide them experiences and opportunities that are life-changing and life-shaping regardless of the fact that they will never be quantified on a piece of paper. Because for the kids, these are the things that they’ll keep with them for the rest of their lives.