they just lived

The sweetest little girl, maybe eight or nine years old, came in crying one day. Her dad had to leave. Her mom was making her dad leave so she wouldn’t see him anymore. The director of the program insisted that it was for her safety, did she remember what he did to her mom, she didn’t want him to beat her too. She was sobbing. The importance of fathers. Healthy fathers. Fathers who can stay because they lift up their family. Fathers who don’t tear families apart and strain their children’s lives.

We went on the hill in the woods and just hung out. Saw a mouse. Cute little mouse. Played a lot of soccer. Swung and pushed kids on the swings. Played in the sandbox. Sang slightly altered versions of pop songs, the kids were practicing for a visit to the elderly center where they would keep seniors company for the afternoon. Read a lot of books with the kids. The program only had room for about 30 kids, and there was always a waiting list. If one kid had siblings, they were automatically allowed to join.

The center was started under the vision of three women. They were from Chicago and wanted to make an actual difference, not just work in a needy community. So they intentionally moved into a primarily Latino neighborhood (called Chirilagua after a town or lake in a Latino country, not sure which one). At first, they just lived. They didn’t make any huge announcements. They just lived. Then, once the neighbors were used to their presence, they started having dinner and inviting everyone over. Just throw open the window and announce a spaghetti dinner. Kids playing in the living room. They joined them outside for soccer. They loved their neighbors. Then they began to ask what the needs were. After living there and becoming part of the community.

The need most parents had was for their kids to have help with homework. They couldn’t speak English, had moved to America for their kids to have a better chance in life. They wanted their kids to be successful, but so many were behind reading level, and the parents couldn’t practice English at home or read the questions on homework assignments. Because the ladies had already established relationships, it wasn’t strange to then step in and begin to help with the problem.

Their impact is ongoing, generational. Their love for others has reshaped an entire neighborhood in metro DC. To find out more about Casa Chirilagua and to donate to their programs, visit their website. And be soft to your own community, whether it’s in the country or downtown Grand Rapids.

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