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Stories of Hope - St. John's Episcopal After School Program

Body, Mind, & Spirit Essay
Footprints on My Heart

Submitted by: Kathy Buskirk
Director St. John's After School Program, LaPorte, TX.

I am a believer in the words of Winston Churchill: “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”

That is what the After School Program is all about…giving to those in need. And the need is here in our community. St. John's ministers to those in need each afternoon of the week. Some of these children come into our lives and leave quickly. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our heart, and we are never, ever the same.

I'd like to share with you a story of one of those footprints left on my heart.

Once there was a teen who attended La Porte High School. She had a very special teacher. This teacher helped her get off drugs. She became the mother figure that she had never had growing up. She graduated from High School. She decided to move to New York with a young man she had met. Try as she might, her special teacher could not dissuade her from leaving.

After giving birth to a daughter, whom we will call Ellie, the young man left her alone to raise the baby. One day the special teacher received word that the young woman was dead. She had left a letter, stating that if anything happened to her, to take her daughter, Ellie, and give her to the special teacher. By now Ellie was 5 years old.

The police said that when they arrived, Ellie was laying on the floor next to her mom. The mother had a needle sticking out of her arm. She was crying for her mom to wake up. The child was taken to CPS until the special teacher was contacted.

When the special teacher enrolled Ellie at St. John's she would not talk. She would answer direct questions, but never join in with the other children. She would stay on the edge of the room. It was as though she were afraid to turn her back on anyone. She rarely looked you in the eye, but when she did, you saw her pain.

It took Ellie a full year to warm up to people. Her second year, she began to initiate conversations. By her third year, we saw the beginnings of a personality.

One afternoon, the class was asked to write a letter to someone….anyone….but the letter should be written in a proper letter form. One child asked if they could write to Santa, another to God, another to a teen pop star.

About 30 minutes later, Ellie approached me on the breezeway. She sat down next to me and fidgeted. We made small talk. Then Ellie said “I wrote a letter to my real mom. I wish I could read it to her.” I told Ellie, “When my dad died, I had a lot of things I had wanted to ask him about, and tell him, but I never had the courage. So after he was buried, I wrote him a letter, and told him all the things I wished we could have talked about when he was alive. I then took it to the cemetery and read it out loud at his grave. I put it in an envelope and left it there. I felt better after I did that. He couldn't answer my questions, but they were no longer held in me. I put them on paper and gave them to God.”

Ellie said “Do you think my grandma will take me to the cemetery and let me do that?” I told her I would talk to her grandma when she picked her up that afternoon. The following Monday, Ellie came to St. John's as a different child. As she was leaving, she said, “Ms. Kathy, I took my letter to my mom this weekend. I read it out loud, and I cried. I remember being so scared of everyone and everything. But one day during Chapel you talked about God's love, and how we are never alone. You said that if we were hurt or afraid or confused, to sit real still and tell God what you are feeling. You said sometimes we can feel God's arms around us, and sometimes you can feel His breath on our cheek, because that's how close He wants to be to us. I did that at the cemetery. I don't know if it was the wind, or God's breath, but I felt it on my cheek, and I felt happy again.”

We never think they are listening to us. We're wrong. They remember every word we say. Negative and positive. But as long as they remember that God is there when they need Him, then our work is done.

Ellie left her footprints on my heart, and I will never be the same.

I don't think Ellie will either. I pray that she will never forget the feeling of God's presence that she felt that day.

I hope and pray that we will never forget that God's presence is in the After School Program each day. Your time and treasure that you give to these children are the hands and feet of Christ. Remember the After School Program when preparing your stewardship commitment. Think about something you can share with our children.

You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.

Make a LIFE and give to a child.

St. John's Episcopal After School Program, La Porte, Texas
Contact: Kathy Buskirk, Director / 281-470-2575

St. John's cares for children who have a significant event in their life, or are in an environment that has placed them at risk of failure. The program is free to all children enrolled and includes free individual and family counseling. Children receive private music lessons, and art classes weekly, as well as tutoring in math, reading, science, daily computer labs and other academic areas as needed.


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