Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Heart of Gold
Her gentle nature with children, ability to ease their fears, and reputation of an angel made Erin an obvious choice to be involved with the church's children ministry program. Serving in the position of door greeter exposed her to the multitude of charming youngsters who streamed by on their way to the youth learning center; often these kids would stop to say hello and engage in a round of pleasantries with the only non-human. A casual conversation with a youth leader regarding the children and their relaxed demeanor around Erin led to a mutual decision to have her involved with the kids attending Sunday School; it was the staff's intention to have her enliven the setting which many kids found tedious and boring. A background check on myself was performed as close interaction with children would be required while Erin's therapy dog resume was suffice for her to enter the hallowed doors of the children ministry program.
The following Sunday we were not welcoming folks to church at the front door but upstairs in an area where dozens of kids from kindergarten through 5th grade would be gathered to hear the word of God in a kid friendly environment. Draped around her neck was her official greeter badge that simply read "Hi!" and that said it all as Erin was anxious to meet the youngsters who were dropped off by their parents at a security checkpoint then ushered inside while the adults went down stairs to hear the morning sermon. There were looks of excitement and surprise on the children's faces as the dog from outside was spotted hanging out and socializing with the staff. Some kids wandered over to say hello without the slightest hesitation while others bashfully kept their distance and a close eye on Erin; it was easy to see the wheels in their minds churning as they tried to figure out why a dog was in their Sunday school class. Some wise kids quickly discovered that sneaking her snacks such as animal crackers or pretzels would gain them bonus points and needless to say Erin didn't mind this one bit.
A pirate-themed lesson plan was part of an ongoing summer series that utilized pirate props and the scripture to make an impact upon the life's of the children. Erin and I were introduced to the group who welcomed us as only children can and then it was time for our indoctrination to unfold. Divided into separate groups based upon their age, the kids many wearing pirate hats, black eyepatches, and wielding plastic swords huddled around the instructors as the lesson began in earnest with the aid of visual and audio equipment. Erin quickly made herself at home as she laid down on the plush carpet amongst the group comprised of the oldest youngsters who welcomed her with open arms; hands thrust out in competition as several wanted to be the holder of the leash. She was in her element as much attention was directed her way; perfectly situated to receive loving from multiple kids she had a broad smile that exposed her pearly whites and drooping tongue to all. Jumping up she made a beeline towards the other side of the arc where her name was being repeatedly called from, plopping down she dished out as much attention as she received til her name rang out again. "Erin Erin come here" and she headed for the voice beckoning her from afar.
Together we broke the barrier of the youngest age group as we worked to gain their trust; sitting on the floor beside them I handed her leash to an eager young boy who smilingly accepted it as he would an ice cream cone. Holding the rich brown leather leash made him feel so special as the other kids sneaked peeks in his direction and before long he had competition from other brazen youngsters who slid across the floor to be near Erin. She became an object of desire and control as they lunged for her leash while the teachers continued the video and audio presentation and then it was time for an pirate dance in sync with the actors onscreen. The kids jumped around in a frenzy at the teachers urging while I leaned against the wall and observed the action; Erin was in the center of it all with a dozen plus kiddies hopping up and down and while she had a smile on her face I noticed her anxiety level rising so I intervened to rescue her from the clutches of the evil pirate kids :)
As the weeks elapsed my role increased within the program while Erin spent her time keeping tabs on me and mingling amongst the different groups; she had free reign to roam but there was little chance of her venturing off since it was in her dna to remain relatively close to me. Erin's popularity was reaching new heights as the children gained confidence in their new fur friend but I sensed something was quite not right. She became a powerful magnet to the kids and most wanted to be near her, holding the leash or be the one petting her but it was obvious some children were overwhelming and stressing her with their unbridled enthusiasm while becoming easily distracted by her presence so Erin's stint with the children's program ended as quickly as it began. The staff was notified we wouldn't be returning due to fault of no one in particular and in the end we went back to greeting the congregation but it was a fun rewarding experience while it lasted. I look back fondly upon that period with pride and joy as Erin shared many smiles with some wonderful kids while helping make a positive impact upon their impressionable minds and as always I'm incredibly proud of her and our accomplishments together.