by Tanya Ward Goodman
There is nothing I can do about the bombs falling in Gaza, nothing I can do about the spread of Ebola. I can save my bathwater and stop watering my lawn, but the California drought is largely out of my own two hands. I can (and do) pray for peace in our streets and the streets all over the world, but there are days when all I can do is close the newspaper and hide in a dark room. I wonder and worry about what the future holds for my children. My thoughts are inky and spiraling.
This past weekend was an antidote to the darkness. I spent two days DOING something. In a flurry of activity that was the culmination years of planning, I worked to renovate the library at my local public elementary school. When the project began, shelves sagged with grubby, outdated books and broken computers. The place was dingy and dirty with a carpet that belonged in a frat house in hell.
What began as a request for new carpet turned into a remarkable partnership between LAUSD, Friends of Franklin, The Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and EnrichLA, headed by the indefatigable Tomas O’Grady.
Over two days I worked side by side with dozens of volunteers. Some of them were, like myself, parents at the school, but many others were drawn to the project only by a need to “do something.” I met incoming USC freshmen and recent graduates. I met grandparents, family friends and city workers determined to shake off the bureaucracy of their daily grind.
A neighbor stopped to check out the line of power saws set up on the front lawn of the school. He wondered if we were having a tag sale.
“No,” I said. “We’re renovating the library. All these people are volunteers.”
He looked me right in the eye and said, “Well, it doesn’t get any better than that, does it?”
In two nine-hour days, we sanded and painted all the bookshelves and installed a long desk to hold a batch of donated computers. Electricians and tech gurus and carpenters provided their expertise gratis. My fellow moms slipped goggles over their heads and worked table saws and circular sanders. Teachers gave up a portion of their hard earned weekend to roll some paint or take a turn with the nail gun.
“What’s next?” Tomas asked again and again. “Find a job and do it.”
And we did. I made multiple trips to Home Depot and our local hardware store, I swept and vacuumed and swept again, keeping a smidge ahead of the next round of sawdust. I passed out popsicles and carried shelves into the sun to dry and back to the shade for a second coat. I moved and moved and moved and thought only of the job at hand. And it didn’t get any better than that.
At the end of the weekend, we peeled back the paper and revealed the shine of the wood floor, released and rejuvenated after years of incarceration under the grim carpet. There were cheers and a few tears. And then we kept moving. We brought boxes of books back in to the library to await shelving. We lugged tables and chairs and made a pile of scraps for the trash and scraps for reuse. We kept doing and doing and man, oh, man did it feel good.
On Sunday night, I came home exhausted to my very core. I sat outside and my husband cooked dinner. My daughter presented me with a cake they’d made while I was away. On top, there was a book made of sprinkles and the word “Mom.”
“I wanted it to say The Book of Cool Moms,” she said, “But there wasn’t enough space.”
I am grateful to my children for a million reasons, but on this weekend, I am grateful to them for giving me an opportunity to do something. Volunteering in their classrooms has always been a great source of satisfaction, but as they’ve grown up, there have been fewer opportunities to be at their side. But the need is still there and as school budgets rise and fall, the projects just keep getting bigger. My daughter will have one year with the gorgeous new library, but those cute kindergartners will learn to read in this lovely space and that is a hopeful thought.
The schools are a great place to “do something” and see a difference right away. Help a senior with college application essays, plant a garden at an elementary school, and rehabilitate a playground or work as an aide in a classroom. The possibilities for action are endless and the goodness is undeniable.
It is the image of this ripple of goodness growing into a great and unstoppable tide that will keep me out of my dark room. I pray it is this tide that will carry our children forward.
If you’d like to get involved, join or start a school parent organization or check out the volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, check out EnrichLA, Access Books, College Path LA, Los Feliz Neighborhood Council
Tanya Ward Goodman is the author of “Leaving Tinkertown” published by the University of New Mexico Press