When I first met twelve-year-old Jake* I felt incredibly intimidated. He had a long history of aggression, having been suspended from school many times for fighting. He was not only taller and stronger than me, but he had told me on several occasions that he hated me.
Despite the obstacles, I continued to attempt to build a relationship with him. I really wanted to break through the quiet, angry shell to get to know the real Jake. It was during a field trip that he first opened up to me. I was in the drivers seat of the van waiting for the kids to board, when Jake sat in the passenger seat and I began to talk nervously about our destination. I asked him a slew of questions about his friends, classes and hobbies … but he was silent. Feeling a little defeated, I asked him what radio station he would like to listen to.
Finally, Jake acknowledged my persistence with a quick, nonchalant response. I quickly turned the radio knobs and landed on the pop station of his choice. A popular song came on and to my surprise Jake turned to me and grinned. “This is my jam,” he stated. I was utterly perplexed and wondered if this was sarcasm. Nope, this was Jake. I watched him turn up the volume and sing every lyric. Bamboozled and relieved, I decided to join in and sang along with Jake the rest of the ride.
That day I had a new companion during our field trip. Jake stayed by my side for most of the day and joined in on the group games with something new- a smile. When the day came to an end we headed back to the van and as Jake was climbing into the front seat he looked at me and said, “thanks, you’re cool.” I knew at that moment that Jake had finally started to trust me..
Since the field trip our relationship has continued to improve, and I finally got answers to my questions about his friends, classes and hobbies. In between Jake talking about basketball and having karaoke competitions with the other Neighborhood Centers kiddos, I have a hard time remembering the quiet, angry boy I had met months ago. I can only hope that this relationship will have a positive impact on his life. It certainly has on mine.
-Jessica, Neighborhood Centers Senior Program Specialist
*Names and other identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.