by Kris Kendall
With about an hour of daylight left on a Monday night, I wasn’t at all surprised to see children who live in the Lake Washington Apartments in Rainier Beach playing outside. The school year may have started, but the kids here still max out their available play time.
What caught me off guard were the three boys who greeted me as soon as I was out the door of the community room where the Catholic Community Services of Western Washington’s Youth Tutoring Program (YTP) holds tutoring sessions for a couple hours on Monday and Wednesday evenings.
Smiling and talking all at once, the boys surrounded me and demanded: “Teach me!” “Ask me something!”
I asked if they were part of the next session, and one of them lit up yet brighter.
“Ask me some times—multiplication,” he said.
So I did. We blazed through 3 x 3 on up to 3 x 8. We talked as I quizzed him and I learned that he and his friends know what YTP is and that they want in. Moreover, they seemed to think that demonstrating their math skills to an adult who was clearly part of the tutoring program might somehow prompt me to usher them through the door – like slipping a $100 bill to the doorman at the club.
All three of these boys, ranging in age from 6 to 8, have signed up to join the Youth Tutoring Program. But enrollment at the Lake Washington Apartments YTP center is maxed out, so my three new friends have been wait-listed. That wait list has 55 names on it. It may be three years before a spot opens up. So that youngest boy, the one who held my hand and demanded that I quiz him on multiplication, may be 9 before he can participate.
“The Youth Tutoring Program doesn’t just help students with their homework,” says center supervisor Maureen Ricks. “It goes far beyond that. We work with students to build the skills necessary for school and for life.”
There are currently 20 students enrolled, with room enough for maybe eight more. Any more than that and this YTP location would have to find a larger work space. That’s a dream for another day, as Ricks is having trouble finding enough tutors to cover each hour-long session as it is.
“Our biggest need is Wednesdays,” Ricks says. “There are some students who only attend Mondays because there is not enough capacity for them on Wednesday.”
Put more bluntly: There are more children who want to join the tutoring program here at the Lake Washington Apartments than there are adults volunteering to tutor.
“At the tutoring center kids have a safe space to be themselves and to learn,” says Maureen Ricks. “These students have so much potential, there just needs to be more people who can help them realize it.”
Not everyone reading this article has the luxury of time and means to spare an hour or two each week. For those who do, and who’ve read this far, don’t just consider applying to be a YTP volunteer—fill out the application and turn it in. Or if tutoring isn’t the right fit for you, look around Rainier Beach or the greater South Seattle region and find a volunteering opportunity that interests you.
Those three boys who thought I might have enough influence to get them into the Youth Tutoring Program are but a small sampling of the people that live here in our own neighborhood for whom these kinds of services are invaluable. Helping to provide those services means you’re helping change lives, and while you’re at it, you’ll find they’ve changed yours.
Kris Kendall volunteers for two hours each week at the Lake Washington Apartments Youth Tutoring Program. He discovered the writing of Walter Dean Myers through volunteering there.