I am a grandmother to a lot of kids.
Nearly 200 call me “Nanna” and they are my whole world.
A few are my own flesh and blood but most of them are the kids at our local YOTS youth centre where my husband and I are the community elders.
We love the work we do at the centre, and the wonderful youth workers. We love the young people in our care.
This is what we teach these kids when they come to the youth centre: to love and respect one another. Respect your community. Respect your family, friends and your teachers. Respect your elders.
A lot of these kids haven’t grown up with much stability in their lives. So we make sure they know they can turn to us whenever they need help. The simple things work best:
It starts every morning at the centre. The kids come over to say hello and check to see we are well. We talk about what’s going on with school, sport, any music they like – anything they’re interested in.
They bring us our meal and drink when we are sitting down to eat. I’ve told them it’s because they have younger legs and can move around easier, but really, any grandma knows it’s about teaching them responsibility and how it feels doing good for others.
We sit at a table to have our meal. If I see any bad behaviour like kids sitting on top of the table rather than using chairs, I’m the first to let them know why it’s important to have good manners: it shows respect for others and themselves.
New kids are usually a bit uncertain of us at first. I’m not sure they have much to do with their own grandparents or if they have those kinds of role models in their lives.
But we are their number 1 cheerleaders when we have a sports day and the first to tell them “well done”.
You need to be patient and kind with them – and firm with them if they get up to mischief. “No one messes with Nanna” they like to say!
I’m also learning a lot from the young people as well.
The kids are very good with technology so if I am having trouble working my phone they are always happy to show me how to do it. They usually come out of their shell after that.
There is so much good being done here, but there are times I wish we could be everywhere to protect them. Because we have lost some beautiful souls here as well.
Like the morning the police came to our centre with terrible news.
One of our YOTS boys had been killed in a brawl that broke out at a party. He was a beautiful person – warm and friendly. We all loved him. The fight was over something stupid – something said and then soon after he was gone. He was only 18.
The boys who did it were 19 and are now facing jail. They drank too much and were too hot-headed. Now their lives are ruined as well.
But there are many more moments where I am so grateful for our little community. And I feel blessed seeing how much these young people have grown.
I’m reminded of the time my husband was having surgery and I was very worried. I think the kids and youth workers could see it on my face because they all gathered in a circle with myself and the youth workers to wish him well.
I broke down and cried at how thoughtful that was – all the wonderful things they said about him and how much they all showed they cared.
My husband survived the surgery. He still has health problems that I am very worried about but those young people give me hope that he will be ok.
Thinking back on that circle still brings me to tears all these months later.
At times the young people come back to let us know the good news. It could be they got into a course, they got a job or they passed their maths test!
It’s wonderful to see them smile and have that glimmer of hope. It brings us so much joy to watch them grow into kind, beautiful people with wonderful lives ahead of them.
Every kid should experience that and that’s why we come back here. We’ll always be here for them for as long as we possibly can.
When you show these kids how much you care, they start to believe in themselves. And when they believe in themselves, amazing things can happen.
It really does take a village to raise a child. Thank you.