Each Saturday morning when Support Teams work at Safe Passage, I wake up at 5:30, put on my bathing suit and leave my house with a full mug of very strong coffee. After making sure my volunteers are “up and at ‘em,” we grab boxes of breakfast food and make our way to hop on our private chicken bus headed for Aqua Magic.
Aqua Magic is a water park complete with slides and a wave pool. Many ask, “why travel 3 hours each way to this specific park? Is it really that magical?” I ask myself this every Friday night as I bid my friends goodnight and set my alarm clock. But seeing all of the students wide awake, patiently, but excitedly awaiting our arrival at 7:30 makes it worthwhile.
We pile on the bus, pass out the breakfast and within the first minute inevitably shouts of, “Que suba la volumen! Que pongas reggaeton!” echo throughout the retired school bus. Kids find the volunteers with whom they’ve connected throughout the week and spend the hours chatting/acting out what they want to say, taking pictures, singing or catching up on sleeping laying in each other’s laps. This past Saturday, 12-year-old Joselin clung to 19-year-old volunteer Amanda first falling asleep on her lap and then forcing Amanda to sleep on hers!
Then we arrive. It isn’t until you venture to the top of the slides—surrounded by fearfully and gleefully screaming Safe Passage students holding hard the hands of volunteers who have convinced them that the slides will be fun—that you see what makes this so magical for our kids. This place is safe. It is fenced in, filled with lifeguards. It’s a place they can run around with their friends and be kids. Most normally spend their Saturdays either unsupervised or cooped up in the house. And it is from this vantage point that you can see exactly where we are: the beach on the Pacific Ocean.
As she tried to empty out all of the sand stuck in her bathing suit, a small and spunky 4th grader, Judith, told me that the first time she ever saw the ocean was with the Bowdoin College Team in March 2010. “I like it, but it scares me,” she says, “and so do the slides!”
After several runs on the slides, an hour at the beach and a lot of time at the wave pool it is time for lunch and almost time to leave. It is at this point in the day when you begin to remember where these kids come from. Many will save part of their lunch for younger siblings and there are always several stragglers who pick up the soda cans the rest of their class and the group have thrown away to bring to their families to sell.
We pile back on the bus and only feeble calls for music, if any at all, can be heard. It is quiet. Sun kissed and sleepy, many fall asleep. As the time drew near to say goodbye to St. Hilary’s Episcopal Church group this past Saturday, several students and volunteers broke out softly into song. The group had worked on a project with one of our 6th grade classes making maracas and teaching them simple rhythms and songs in Spanish. Listening to the voices of the volunteers trying their Spanish and watching the 6th graders dance around to the songs they had learned and practiced together was all-in-all a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.