Healing Species Founder, Cheri Thompson, Writes Letter to Healing Dogs Program Students at DJJ

Below is a letter that our founder, Cheri Thompson, wrote to students in the Healing Dogs Program

at the Department of Juvenile Justice…



To my dearest Healing Dog Students,


My most precious young men whom I love; and God loves so dearly!  This is my chance to speak to you, directly, straight from my heart, not within the confines of a “lesson plan”- or a “class”- but from my deepest part of my heart. 


I feel like I know each of you even though I haven’t met you because Miss Marie, and Miss Amanda, – and even Miss Jessica who has worked with you less,- talk about you non-stop- – you would think that you are each rock stars, super stars, as much as they love you, talk about you, – —  –  and considering how much promise as they see in you, how much good, and “star-power”  they see in you. 


And I believe them!  I expect each of you to go on and do good things. 


I hope they share with you in detail the lifestyle of the Character Based Unites at Perry, Lee, and other Correctional Institutions, with the point being- – that no matter where you find yourself- – band together with others who are seeking good, who are seeking to be honest, to earn a fair wage for a fair day’s work, who will not steal from you or others, who will not bully or intimidate to get their way. 


MY COMMMISSION TO YOU:  If you were personally beat up, or touched in private areas while still young; if you are carrying hurts and injuries that maybe long ago have had the outside marks fade, but the inside wounds still inside, then I beg of you- – seek someone who you can trust- – – please look high and low, look deep, look at a church, look at a community center, look at a school- from the Guidance department, or for a teacher you like or trust, look toward the school nurse, or a Principal who cares, look for a School Officer, or a Chaplain, look  for a social worker- look for an Aunt or neighbor, look for someone, someone – – who will council you, who will accept you, who will be kind to you, who will advocate for you. 


It took my son- my adopted son- six adults, HE HAD TO TELL SIX ADULTS- before anyone would help him.  Finally, a new Guidance Counselor was hired at his school the following year, and he told her his same, old, tired story, and she was the first person to say, “Joe, I am so sorry.  That is horrible.  I am going to help you.”- – Never give up on yourself.  You deserve to be safe. 


You deserve to find success and happiness. 


You deserve to know that you are special!  Precious!  That no one – no one else- has the exact same gifts and talents that you have! 


If someone hurts you- you do not have to hurt back.  I want you to be safe.  If you can possibly remove yourself from conflict, do so.  Take as example from Miss Amanda, who served time in a Federal Prison.  She had her time so scheduled-out that she was exhausted and tired, even in prison, from attending chapel, Bible Studies, Group therapies, work, and schooling studies….


That the “trouble-making-groups” just dismissed her as not helpful at all to their persuasion.  She

“dissuaded” their advances by making it so apparent that she was on such a totally different path

of behavior, that they basically dismissed her and left her be.  She would have been “way to much work” to “turn.”  From there, she was able to spread her wings and fly! 


I have heard the stories of how you laid on the floor to assist Winston.  How you helped Jessica save the spider.  How one of you almost stomped a “rolly-poly-or-some-sort-of-bug” on the sidewalk- – just because you could- – and because that was reflex and old behavior- – but you stopped yourself “mid-stomp”- and allowed him to keep his little life—as insignificant as it may seem to us- it matters in the Universe and to that little bug!  I have seen you achieve. 


I have heard about how you carried Winston to the car when he was too tired to walk due to his handicap.  I have heard about how you engage, and listen, and have meaningful discussions with your instructors.  I have heard about how you are so very respectful, how you never use profanity, or intimidation, or rudeness, or belligerence in our Healing Dogs classes. 


I want you to know that I HAVE SEEN WITH MY OWN EYES, I HAVE BEEN THE WITNESS, TO SEE THE AMAZING IMPACT AND EFFECT YOU HAVE HAD ON DOGS WHO OTHERWISE WOULD NEVER STAND A CHANCE AT GETTING A HOME.  Maddie and Sophie used to be so wild, and hyper, and unruly, and jumping, and barking, and yapping, and almost snapping, and clawing, and competitive, and STARVING FOR ATTENTION, that I was literally afraid to walk into their fenced yards.  They would jump on me and scratch my face; they would jump up and knock me in my jaw and hurt me, they would claw at my clothes and rip my shirt, they would ruin my jeans and make my clothes filthy dirty, and I was a little afraid that if they knocked me down –the fall might hurt me, or that they might actually snap at me in competition of who got my hand of attention. 


Yesterday, I went into their pen and they sat.  They loved me.  And they let me love them back.  They wagged their tails, and whole end bodies, and were calm, and sure of themselves. MORE THAN ANYTHING- IT WAS apparent that they finally knew they were loved.  They were calm!  They were behaved.  No “commanding voice” no commands of “trained-instructions”- – just a “heart change,” a “new dog mentality!”  You did this!  This will finally allow families to see them.  To touch them.  To consider taking them home! 


Winston was the same way.  Even with his physical challenge, he was strong, and determined, and would not listen.  Being a pit bull, I made the mistake of judging him, and feeling slightly afraid.  Inside of his fenced yard, he would be so assertive, almost aggressive, to get out, and to play, and to grab your hand into his mouth- that without meaning to-  being so strong, he could hurt you.  HE DOES NOT DO THAT ANYMORE!  I feel 100% confident to get into his fenced area alone with him now!  Already having the “label” as a pit bull, this is 100% critical to his survival to be adopted!  You probably saved his life!  I will never, ever walk past his yard again without thinking of you- – even when he goes to his family one day, and a new dogs starts a path of healing from that space, I will remember that space as Winston’s old home- – and HOW YOU saved him by making it possible for him to look for a family. 


Boys, you can change lives just like this for the rest of your lives.  You are good.  You have good to give.  You can make an impact.  You can change things.  First for yourself—and for others around you.  How? By one small action, one small choice, one small decision at a time.  The choice of who you let into your inner circle, of who you select as a friend…  Of who you choose to trust.  Of what you choose to do when you “THINK” no one else is looking. 


But you are looking.  Do it for you.  Respect yourself first.  Then respect will find you. 


“Seek out” the good in life; and if I may say, look for God.  If you look for Him, He will look for you back.  He’s actually already looking.  Let Him find you.  One of my favorite lines in all of history is a line that says, “God, here am I.”  Maybe Miss Marie or Amanda will tell you which King said that line. 


Go where He dwells.  Find friends among His friends. 


Don’t look at what others say.  Look at what they do.  And you will know who to believe. 

I send my blessings to you.  My faith is in you.  I send my love to you.  If I could be there today I would- and I know you understand my work for Healing Species today could not be altered, it is a pivotal session that was impossible to alter, that involved many, many players, outside business people, as well as other staffers, and it will affect the long-term future of Healing Species.  So that we can continue to serve other young men, just as promising as you are! 


If you believe in prayer, please pray for Healing Species.  We need you. 


I send you my love- more deeply and truly to you than you know.   


Miss Cheri. 


Yesterday I met a man who is serving a life sentence in prison for killing both his grandparents.
This is how our conversation went:
“Can you show me how to get the dog to come to me?” It was the first thing he had said to me, eyes down looking at the ground between us. I was visiting the prison with Healing Species, known for it’s Character Education Program for students, that also operates a rescue/adoption facility for dogs, and has been placing dogs in prisons since 2012.   Four once abandoned and unloved dogs now lived in the institution with the inmates, as they trained and loved them into being adoptable to future outside homes.
We had gone up to visit the assisted living unit, the four “handlers” and their pups, on a mission to bring some life and joy to the inmates less able to get around well, due to age or mental or physical limits.
“Well, sure, let’s see,” I smiled. “These dogs are so loved they’re almost snobby, aren’t they?” I joked as one large and healthy dog sniffed his way by us, oblivious to my outreached hand.
He laughed; he got my joke, then he kept laughing for a minute. “They get a lot of attention. They aren’t hungry for attention around here.”
“Well, you know to put your hand out, right? Palm up or down, arm extended.” I showed him, and he mimicked the motion, testing it out. “You can also make a clicking sound when you are calling them, they love that!”
He tried clicking, and it was perfect.
“Now, put love in your eyes. They can read love. Put it in your eyes and your eyebrows; let him know you’re happy to see him.”
The man who’s face had stayed turned towards the ground made an effort to move his eyes upwards to face mine. It made him uncomfortable, because there was not only insecurity that made him look down, but also a physical pull that crooked his head to the side. But he still looked up.
His face contorted as he tried to “put love in his eyes.” It was the most beautiful sight, to see him truly trying to soften his gaze at the hope that one of the dogs would be more comfortable around him.
“You ready? That’s perfect. Let’s call one of them over.”
“Shepp! Want to come over? Come here, Shepp,” I sweetly called, in my nicest voice.
He came trotting over, happy and confident.
“Now put your hand out,” I reminded the man.
He put his hand out and starting clicking, and remembering his face was to be involved too, he lifted his eyes into a smile, despite the effort it took, as if there were weights on his eyebrows.
Shepp came over and let him love him.  Then, quickly distracted by a bird, he darted off.
“Great job! You did it!”
He smiled down at the ground. “Thanks.”
And the smile stayed on his face.
Later as I commented on what a terrific person he was to some superiors, they informed me of his crime.
And to be honest, that only makes me care more.
What a deeply hurt person he must have been, along with the other inmates, to be living their lives out in the Department of Corrections. What would compel a person to commit murder, or burglary, or kidnapping? What pain must they have felt to not consider the consequences or the pain they were causing other people? What patterns of emotional or physical abuse had they adapted to place them behind heavy steel doors for the rest of their lives?
There are many victims of crimes out there, and I do not wish to excuse justice. In fact, contrary to rumor, most of the incarcerated admit they were wrong and accept the fact that they deserve to be there.
But everyone deserves healing.
Healing Species is helping prevent crime through the Compassion Education and Violence Prevention evidence-based curriculum program in schools.  This program allows students to recognize hurts that need attention, and deal with them rather than turning to a life of distraction from them.  Healing Species is rescuing neglected and abandoned dogs, giving them new life and an opportunity to do what dogs do best- love a family. And to the person locked up, lost, cast away, hated by society and forgotten, Healing Species has seen that even they need love and purpose, and are fostering it through dogs once unloved and cared for.
When we left, my co-worker cried. Two of the inmates, as they expressed gratitude at being able to participate in the program, allowed tears to fall down their faces as well. Hardened criminals, not so hard maybe, crying and feeling safe enough to do so in pure thankfulness.
In fact, when the program was first beginning at the prison, the inmates heard about the need to cover the expenses for the program.  Amazingly, the inmates, who work for pennies an hour, made donations out of their own canteen money to make the program possible at their institution. Some men gave up to twenty dollars, for a total of over five hundred dollars.
When I heard this I couldn’t believe it. The money system in prison is much different than out here, and twenty dollars is a fortune. My heart was touched beyond measure. If they can give out of so little that they are working with, can’t I?
Before we left we heard this testimony to the program:
“This dog has changed my life. There has always been an empty place inside me. Caring for him has filled that void, and given me purpose. I know responsibility now. I know unconditional love now.”  A true “healing species” at work.
And I’d say, money well spent.
For more about the Healing Dogs Adoption Prison Program, check out http://healingspecies.org/programs/prison-program.


A Feel Good Story

Open the door! I thought as I stood there with a heavy bag on my shoulder, and a pup tugging at his leash to further explore. I was at one of our residential sites, and I had a class to get to. There was a staff person trying to get through the door and she had just gotten a new set of keys. She was trying every single one and I politely said, “Having a little trouble?” Then, a counselor with his own set of keys came over to save the day.

“Here, I’ll get it for you,” he said.

“Well, I still need to know which key is the right one for this door,” the staff lady mumbled.

Inside I groaned. I’m going to be late!  I complained silently.

Right next to me was one of my male students. From the first day he had touched my heart. I had come in as usual, accompanied by an over sweet and loving dog, who had been rescued from a life of neglect. He certainly was not neglected anymore! The young man had nearly jumped in excitement.

“A dog! Oh, I miss my dog at home so much! Can I pet him?” he asked.

“Sure can,” I replied, and smiled as he got on the floor to give the dog a hug.

All during the lesson he watched me teach with glazed eyes, as if in a dream, as he petted Beau methodically. When it was time to leave, he got right back down on the floor and told him, “Bye, Beau. I’ll see you soon. Thanks for coming to our class.”

This is the magic of the dog in Healing Species, I thought.

It had been a few weeks since that day but each week that I came, this young man had been tough on the outside, to the group of his all-girl peers, but when he saw whichever dog came with me that day, he melted into a sweet child again.

Today at the table we did a lesson. We made up a personal motto for ourselves, something to repeat to keep us on track, and we wrote them on cardstock as reminders. He was proud to show me his. “No matter what, anyone can change.”

“Wow, that is a great motto!” I told him.

“Thanks. You know my birthday is coming up next month!” he said excitedly.

“Oh yeah? How old will you be?” I asked.


My heart jumped. So young, I thought. You are too young to be here! What was going on at home to land this baby in a residential program so young?

What I said was, “Oh, wow! You look older! At least 15.” And he smiled like I knew he would, appreciative that I thought he was older.

So I was standing there waiting to get out the door and I look over and it’s him standing there waiting too. Just us, and the counselor and the staff lady struggling with the keys. I saw my opportunity.

“I’m really impressed by you. There’s something about you. You have a deep soul, and a sincere heart. You know, you are really going to go places in life.”

Genuine shock was on his face, in his eyes. He said nothing. It was like the compliment hadn’t landed on him yet.

Then it did.

“Thanks,” he said, and he gave me a quick half hug before he quickly shuffled away. He was smiling.

On the way to the next class I weighed it all out. If that staff lady hadn’t been there or if the girls had been around, I would not have had that chance, that moment with him to encourage him. My moment of frustration had turned out to be the best, most significant moment of my day.

This young man deserves a chance. And all of heaven and earth is working together to help him believe in himself again. Healing Species is more than rescuing dogs and having them come with us into schools.

It’s about bringing in a living, breathing example of how love transforms.

Rescued dogs are rescuing children. I am proud to be a part of this team.

We would love to have you as a part of our team, too. Any donation is so sincerely appreciated. The gifts of others is what has made this dream possible. No matter what the size, we thank you.


Fourth Grader

“We have a visitor today, so I need everyone to be on their very best behavior because we have a lot to cover and just a little time to do it!” I smiled at my classroom of fourth graders. “Y’all make me look good, okay?” I winked and loud whispered, and the whole class laughed including our guest, a Healing Species board member, there to observe a class in action.
I’ll never forget that class. The semester had gotten off to a rough start. I had a few boys, who, although they had the best of intentions, could not seem to get along with one another long enough to hear or participate in any of the lesson. I had tried moving them, sitting down with them after class to have a talk of encouragement, and talking with the teacher. I cringed when they misbehaved, because the teacher would do what seemed most natural to her: take them out of Healing Species, because participation was considered a privilege. No! Don’t do that! I would think. They are who needs this the most. 
I was teaching class one day about mid-semester, and the boys were starting their antics – the name calling, the scowls, the pent-up anger bursting to get out. I panicked on the inside and glanced quickly at the teacher, who was already rising from her desk.
“Nathaniel, can you help me pass out these papers?” I asked quickly.
“Yes!” and he scrambled quickly to the front of the room, proud to do something for the teacher.
“Ja’quan do you mind erasing this board for me, so it’s squeaky clean for your teacher?”
“Whoo! I’ll do it!” He jumped up.
“Jose, would you please wrap my TV cord up and put my folders in my bag while I take Beau around for dog time?”
“Yes, mam!” He smiled, happy to have a job.
After class, I called the three boys over. “Thank you so much for your help! Do y’all want some Beau time before we leave?”
“YES!” they all fell on Beau, petting his head and talking in dog voice to him. Beau sat there smiling, loving the attention.
“Next week, do you three think you could help me again?” I asked seriously.
“I’ll do it, Ms. Amanda.” “Me, too!” “Yes, mam!” They replied.
And so I had found my solution. Give the boys a job, something to do, a purpose. Their shoulders went back, they lifted their chins, and smiles filled their faces as they left the classroom.
Since then, our class had transformed. The boys who once had been the troublemakers were now the leaders, and they took this position seriously. They had always been leaders, just now, they were leading in a different way.  I smiled over at our guest and asked if she would like to help give out Certificates of Completion with me. Today was our very last day, and we did a project, where the students “graduate” and as part of a compassion exercise, they made cards to thank someone special in their lives.
That class was phenomenal. My heart was full as they stood in the line and received their Certificates, shaking my hand with their shy, but proud smiles. Looking over at our guest, I could tell she was feeling it too. She had the look:  appreciation, admiration, and wonder at these exceptional nine and ten year-olds. I looked on like a proud momma duck.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what happened next.
The students were leaving and saying their goodbyes and hugging me tight around the waist, when I got a tap on the shoulder.
“Ms. Amanda, I wanted to give you this.” One of my three boys were standing there, with a card.
“Oh my goodness, how wonderful!” I said as I opened it. It was truly beautifully decorated and elaborate. Inside it said, “Thank you for teaching me how to have empathy.” And there was a picture of Beau and myself, teaching.
“I will never forget you. You keep being that leader I see in you, okay?” I smiled down at him.
“Yes, Ms. Amanda” he beamed.
I walked away from that school, knowing that at least two lives had forever been changed by Healing Species, yet again.
His, and mine.

Instead of Straight A’s, We Celebrate Acts of Kindness

Sister and I are the lucky two who get to launch the Healing Species Literacy Project at a Lexington One Elementary School.  I am finding that Second Graders might be the best audience on the planet, but maybe it is because I show up with a dog.  Never before have I felt SO welcomed, popular or gorgeous–yes, they are generous with the compliments AND the fan mail.  I watch these little people race to hold the door for me, carry my bags and drag over a chair for reading time.  “Katie” whispers that she wants to sit in my lap.  “Mathew” makes a list to remind me of who gets to fill Sister’s water bowl.  “Marcus” asks me to be his mom.
Everyone needs to see the Literacy Project in action.  These kids are learning and retaining new vocabulary.  They discuss Cause and Effect in literature.  They write poetry.  Because they understand empathy, they feel brave enough to share private things with the class:
“I need help tying my shoes.”
“I still need training wheels with my big bike.”
“I live with my Grandmother.”
Week after week, I watch these kids take risks, challenge and support one another and make connections. I encourage them to have awareness, to be an advocate, to trust their gut.  Instead of straight A’s, we celebrate acts of kindness.  We decide that we would not want to live in a world where everyone is the same.  I trust them with my own private truths:
“Ms. Amy can not jump rope.”
“Ms. Amy has trouble remembering right from left.”
They reassure me that I am not alone.  It’s good company.

First Day

“Copper, do you want to go to school?” I asked enthusiastically, emphasizing the word ‘school’. You bet he did. He was wagging so hard his whole tail end was in it, and he smiled up at me and jumped in the passenger side.

I was excited too; the first day of Healing Species was unique and fun and always made me feel like clicking my heals together in triumph. The reaction of the students at seeing a dog in their school, the material we covered, and the student’s attentiveness and expressions as they feel the stories told on this first day, were enough to get anyone excited.

We cruised to the school, with the windows cracked and the radio on.  Copper stuck his nose out the window and now and then hopped down to the floorboard to see if I had perhaps dropped any food by accident. I saw that he found something down there, and I grimaced. He’d eat anything, including crayons or erasers, and if some tasty treat even fell on the floor, his nose knew where it landed.  He made me laugh with his ravenous appetite, because I knew he got fed, plenty. He was a wonder;  how eager he was to please, and how confidently he strutted the hallways. It was inspiring when I thought about where he came from.

Every dog that comes into the classroom has a story of overcoming abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and with compassion and love and a second chance, has triumphed outstandingly, with grace and a cheerful demeanor. They are an example to us all that no matter what we may have been through, or who has hurt us, we can heal, and we can still love.

Copper was no exception. He was found by Animal Services, walking down a long, country road, thin and worn out. The saddest part of the story was that when he was found, there were distinct cigarette burn holes on his ears, where he had been abused. He had apparently run away in an effort to escape the abuse, and had nearly starved to death in his attempt at a new life. Then he was taken to a shelter and got in line to be either adopted, which was unlikely, or put down, and with each day that passed, his fate looked more and more desperate. Finally a couple, newlyweds, came to that shelter in particular, because they knew the fate of the pets who wouldn’t get adopted, and they hoped to save a life. Instantly, when their eyes met Copper’s, they knew he was the one. He was now as much a member of the family as a child would be, with plenty of love, attention and affection, and even occasional trips to grandma’s!

We pulled up the school, got checked in and made our way down the hall to our classroom.  As we were walking down the hall, a line of adorable first graders stared in awe and wonder.

“Mrs. Johnson! There’s a doggie in the school!” a little boy exclaimed happily.

“Can we pet him?” a little girl asked, as she stepped out of line and dived down to Copper.

“Is it okay with you?” I asked Mrs. Johnson, and she nodded and smiled her consent and Copper and I walked right down the line of tiny shoes, and Batman book bags, and eager hands reaching out to pet him. They asked hundreds of questions like, “What’s his name? How old is he? What kind of dog is he?” I smiled and answered as many as I could, then we were back on our way. Copper loved it. He was prancing now, chest forward, tail wagging.

“Copper, you’re such a celebrity.” I told him as we approached our classroom.

I gave a quick knock and looked through the window. Everyone was getting excited, standing up and then sitting back down in their desks impatiently. The teacher beckoned me in, and Copper and I made our grand entrance.

After we introduced ourselves and I told the students Copper’s story, I asked if there was anyone who was afraid of dogs. All the student’s heads turned to look at a little girl in the back, and she shyly raised her hand.

“Well, sweetheart, you do not have to touch him, and I will even keep him on this side of the room, away from you, okay?”

She smiled gratefully. “Does he bite?” she asked.

“No, Copper does not bite. He’s not aggressive a bit. He’s a sweet little puppie!” I said in my dog voice, so he knew I was talking to him, too. He laid down on his side and looked at me, and the entire classroom erupted in laughter. I looked at the shy little girl in the back and she was smiling, too.

“Do you want to try and pet him?” I asked her.

Her classmates started encouraging her. “Try! Do it! He won’t bite!”

Even the teacher smiled confidently. “If you want to try, now’s your chance. Do you want to try to pet Copper?”

She looked frightened, but deep down I saw that she really wanted to. She wanted to trust this dog but she looked up at me, uncertainly.

“Come here. I’ll pet his head and you can pet his back.”

The whole classroom got quiet as she made her way up front, smiling a little out of nervousness. I got Copper in a love grip, petting his face, and he was smiling with his eyes shut. As she was approaching, he opened one eye and looked at her, then me. With that look he told me he knew exactly what was happening at that moment. He had been in this position before, of helping a child overcome their fears. Copper was empathetic. He had had his own fears to overcome at one time.

She crouched down and gave Copper a quick pet on his back, with one finger. The classroom cheered!

“Do you want to try again? Copper loves to be petted.”

This time, she petted Copper with her whole hand, and he twisted around to say hello. Instead of alarm, she petted him on his neck, then on the top of his head. Copper started sniffing around her wrist and arm with his wet little nose. She was delighted. The whole class was charmed and even the teacher was caught in the moment.

Such a moment. Being there as a child overcame their fear with patient understanding and the encouragement of her peers. Watching her come alive as she realized her courage. Best of all, watching her face light up as Copper sniffed kisses on her hand and followed her to her seat.

After the class was over, and everyone had emptied out, she appeared at my side.

“Mrs. Amanda? Can I pet Copper one more time?”

“Sure thing, sweetie.”

As I was packing up and erasing the board, her teacher came up to me.

“That was truly amazing. She has been a little nervous about  these classes because she knew the dog would be coming with you. I just wanted to thank you for taking that time with her.”

My heart was warm and it was showing on my face. The girl jumped up from the floor after giving Copper a hug goodbye. She put her tiny little arms around my waist.

“Thank you, Mrs. Amanda! See you next week!” And I want to click my heals with joy.

On our way back to Copper’s house, I smiled as he resumed his search for crumbs on the floorboard. He had a good day. We both did.

Healing Species. Healing, growing, overcoming, loving.

I can’t wait until next week.

Seeing Them

Teaching high school students is a good bit different than teaching elementary students, or so I thought. One opening of the lesson Choices and Consequences, emphasizes using empathy in all decisions, and begins with a sing-song-like nursery rhyme.
“I can’t read this to them,” I thought to myself, looking down at the poem entitled, I Found a Tiny Starfish.
I said it in my mind, sarcastically. “I found a tiny starfish. Ha!” I pictured how this would go down. They were either going to laugh me out the classroom or worse, roll their eyes and tune me out for the rest of the lesson.
They were staring at me all tough, how teenagers can do, with slight little frowns and furrowed brows, somehow managing to look angry and bored at the same time. It was time for an executive decision- I would deviate from the lesson, and plunge right into an explanation of empathy.
Suddenly, I saw them. These hard faced teens with their pants baggy and hanging low on their bottoms, these girls with thick eye makeup making them look so much older than they were, but past that, I saw them.  Just kids, really, longing for attention, compassion, love. They were sending the world a message of “Don’t mess with me” but their eyes were still curious, still bright, and underneath, I could see the question, “Do you like me? Am I okay?”
I smiled brightly, a genuine, excited smile.
“Good morning! I am going to start by reading a poem entitled I Found a Tiny Starfish. It’s geared to a younger audience but I want you to stretch your imagination and just go with it, okay? Are y’all okay with that?”
I got some smiles and they glanced at their friends, and I began reading, just as I would to a group of 4th graders, with big eyes and emphasizing certain words.
They were captivated. They listened to every word. They didn’t throw tomatoes at me, or turn their chairs around in disgust. They were precious, and they welcomed a chance to be young again, to be a child.
I was reminded, again, this day, that we all have a child in us, questioning, “Do you like me? Am I okay?” And that no matter what our tough exteriors or fascinating professions, we each have an inquisitive child inside us, willing to be captivated by the seemingly simple moments of life.
It’s okay to let yourself go and be young.
I found myself in a (one-sided) conversation with seagull recently.
“Howdy mister seagull; how are you today?  Thank you for keeping our beach clean.”
He gave me a look and kept pecking.
“Mommy, who are you talking to?” my son asked.
“The seagulls, sweetie.” And he accepts this, because he knows me, and knows how I crave the simplest, sweetest moments in life.
Crave them, seek them, embrace them. They open your heart and keep you young.