Turning towards the Nob Hill apartment complex, just off Interstate 24, the large, yellow-painted Super Mercado dominates the landscape. It’s the first sign you’re entering into a different world, a corner of Nashville you probably wouldn’t find unless someone brought you there. The second thing you might notice is the worn footpath that stretches from the Super Mercado off towards Nob Hill. These are not sidewalks, mind you, but paths worn to dirt through constant use that cut through the grass and brush, connecting the Hispanic market to the population of this low-income community. On the footpath, you might see a woman walking towards the store, with a baby stroller and kids in tow, or walking back from the store with groceries, the kids doing their part by carrying a few white plastic bags. You might not make much of these observations; you might even be tempted to follow the general suspicions we have of people who walk anywhere, but these footpaths say a lot. They say a lot about why SLAM works here, and why we set up summer kids’ camps that provide activities and games for the children who live in these apartments.
What opportunities would your children have if your options were limited to where you could walk? When a mother thanked me last week, this is precisely the thing she noted; she was so grateful to see her child playing, happy, and engaged in activities like games and crafts. The mothers here often have to stay inside their apartments, attending to chores or sick children; some have to work outside the home, all of which makes it difficult to provide their children with the opportunities they know they need. This is where SLAM comes in. With the help of enthusiastic SLAM participants, we get to bring activities, games, and lessons right into Nob Hill.
A day at Nob Hill begins next to the playground, where there is large stretch of grass, shaded by a group of towering Oak trees. Between 30 and 40 kids will arrive, ranging from about five to 12 years of age. The SLAM participants begin learning their names, and engaging in informal games of various kinds, which spread from the playground to the far end of the grass. Everywhere you look, kids are interacting, laughing, running. You can’t help but feel the day filling up with energy and excitement. After all the children arrive, we begin the activities we’ve planned. The program varies from day to day, but we usually start with a few games, split between the younger and older kids. After lunch, there is a time of songs and teaching. The bible story is communicated through a skit, which solicits many laughs, but by the end, all the children are listening with rapt attention. We take a moment after the skit to discuss the lesson of the story. The kids listened and watched attentively, and they were quick to tell you what the previous day’s story had been.
At the end of the week, a group of Nob Hill mothers thanked all the SLAM participants by making lunch for them. It was the kind of gratitude you never forget. They cooked handmade tostadas, made passion fruit juice, and served all the SLAM volunteers. These mothers love their children, and they love to see them having fun, laughing, and enjoying their friends. Their gift to us was a testament to how meaningful the week really was, and it was a reminder of how urgent our responsibility is to provide children everywhere with access to beneficial activities and times of learning.