Despite an unexpected detour and some fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants instant navigation to reach the expressway on-ramp (we managed to successfully navigate by applying logic and intuition in female group-think), we arrived at the SOS Children's Village about 10:40 a.m. Even though the program wasn’t scheduled to begin until 2:00 p.m., there was a LOT to do and there was hardly any down time for the rest of the day. First we unloaded the car - 28 boxed laptops accompanied by a very large, very heavy "tool" tub (fortunately it had rear wheels and a retractable handle, so it weighed about as much as my 19 inch carry-one does when I go to New York) that contained all of the supplies needed for the program and Shira's audio/visual equipment. (Erin's table arrangement before the photographer changed everything around about five times!) Once we got everything up to the meeting room on the second floor of the Community Center for the Village, there were tables to arrange. The day before, Millie, who is the Director of the Village facilities, and her assistant(s) had wiped down everything with disinfectant – just a Swine Flu precaution, etc. However, there were the inevitable smears of poster paint and white glue that didn't come off in a routine swab-down. After a brief discussion, Erin had come up with a good lay-out for the tables, giving all of the participants a good view of the area where the projected video would be. But because of the constraints we were under with respect to photographing the children, once the photographer got there (who volunteered his time, spent the entire day, and took us out to dinner afterwards - more about that later) - soon the tables were dancing around and around. Ultimately an arrangement was decided upon that was good for photographing the proceedings, complying with the restrictions on photographing the children. Unfortunately, the lay-out was not the most advantageous for the volunteers who would be working with the children. The children were seated across from their volunteers, with their backs to the photographer's set up, instead of being seated side by side with their volunteer with the lap-top in between. It was awkward, but it worked out pretty much okay once everything got underway. Everyone was so engrossed in the program, it really didn’t matter who was sitting where. By the end of the program, some of the kids were laying halfway across the tables working on the notebooks, and other creative volunteer "buddy" and child arrangements were seen, too. Once Shira, Erin and I got everything up to our second floor location (there was an elevator, thank Goddess!), all of the laptops had to be unboxed, unwrapped, and the power cords and AC adaptors had to be unwrapped, connected, the twisty ties removed from the cords (we did not want the children hassling with THEM!) and the convenient rubber stretchy "hold band" was closed to hold the cords in place to form a neat bundle. The notebooks were stacked with identifying labels on each one so that each volunteer could find his or her child’s computer and grab a cord/AC adaptor pack at the same time. While Erin and I were busy getting the notebooks ready, with the assistance of Millie, the Director of the SOS facilities, and another young woman who also works at the SOS Village (I never did catch her name, unfortunately, and they did not wear name tags, but I will get her name and insert it where it needs to be), the speaker who would be delivering the first part of the program and a photographer arrived and began their own set-up! I'd had no idea about these aspects of the program (check out The Way to Happiness), and was really impressed with how quickly Shira had been able to pull things together and get it all organized! She had only just arrived in Chicago when we played our three-game Shira Chess Challenge Match over Labor Day weekend at the end of September, and now she was leading the way for her Foundation's most ambitious project yet! Soon Shira and the motivational speaker (I will also supply his name, what a great guy!) set up Shira's A/V equipment. The tables were being shoved around to satisfy the photographer (see above). Millie and her assistant put up Computer Labs for Kids banners. I did a toilet paper and hand-towel check in the ladies' room (LOL!) Erin was in charge of the volunteers. She was to get the volunteers checked in on our Master List, get media releases signed, make sure the volunteer’s training had already been completed (or would be completed at one of two computers we had standing at the ready), and make sure that each volunteer was filled in by Shira's IT volunteer assistant (Joe) regarding the particular programs that the children would be working with during the second half of the program. I was in charge of registering the children. My job was to make sure each child had a name tag and a supply of stickers that would be used to mark off completed exercises on worksheets that they would go through with their volunteers, and was checked off the Master List, then matched up with his or her volunteer. Originally part of my duties was also to obtain signed releases (media and computer) from the foster-parents of the children. However, before things started to get really hectic, Millie and her assistant took charge of getting the necessary signed releases from the foster-parents as they brought their children to the first floor of the center. (This was a requirement of the program - the foster parent must bring his or her foster-child to the center by 2:00 p.m. and return to take his or her foster-child home at 5:00 p.m.) This change in the original plan worked like a charm, as Millie and her assistant obtained the foster-parents' signatures on the necessary releases as the children were brought to the center and I was afterwards free to greet each child one-on-one and get them signed in. After the computer equipment was declared ready, Erin worked on the volunteer folders and name tags as we went over our respective duties again and again while I worked on assembling the name tags for the children. During this time, there were interim meetings with Shira, Millie, the motivational speaker and the photographer. The center was abuzz with activity - and it was yet a couple of hours before the foster-parents and the kids would arrive! Until today, I had no idea just how much behind-the-scenes work goes into organizing a three hour event that was designed to host 28 children, 28 volunteers (one for each child), a photographer, a motivational speaker, additional volunteers (in case some volunteers did not make it), foster-parents, additional children (non-participants), and additional support volunteers working with the children and the IT people (for instance, accompanying a child to the restroom or to get a drink of water). Whew! I was already exhausted by noon, and our day had not even yet begun! Shira called a lunch break about 12:30 p.m. The volunteers were scheduled to arrive at 1:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the start of the program. Shira had thoughtfully provided lunch for Erin and I - delicious chicken sandwiches and cheese plates from Starbucks. Absolutely delish! It was a nice break. While we munched we also talked about how things had gone thus far, and what was left to face – and do – as people started to pour into the center. Millie and her assistant went to McDonalds (I could have gone for a Big Mac, but good manners prevented me from slipping Millie money on the side for a sneak Big Mac). After lunch we continued taking care of last-minute details, and going over the after-program items – DVDs and books to be handed out, connections to be made and contact info to be exchanged, etc. Always primary were the children. I like kids, and I usually get along with them just fine. But I was worried - would I be overwhelmed with these duties? How would the equivalent of a classroom full of young children behave at the peak of excitment? I didn't have long to fret, though, because the volunteers who would be working with the children started arriving in twos and threes, fours and fives! They needed to be checked in, releases signed, last minute instructions issued, and then the volunteers met with an IT expert who did a quick review of the programs with them. We should have expected that it would not be the smooth and easy process that was outlined in our "Volunteer" materials! But those materials did prepare us for what we needed to do. . While early-arriving children were being marshalled downstairs by the able Millie and assistant, I helped Erin out as best I could with volunteer check-in. It was hectic but we made a good team. All went relatively smoothly, except that some volunteers didn't arrive early enough to have their full review with Shira’s IT people to go over the programs. With some foresight, Shira had set up two separate computers in the registration area where volunteers could go through an online training program (about 15-20 minutes in length) if they had not previously completed their training. We had three (maybe four?) volunteers go through their training at those computers.
(The Community Center, a quick photo I took from the parking lot shortly after we arrived. The second floor area houses an open area where several computers are housed that the kids of the Village can use during designated hours (strict rules apply). Those computers are the property of the SOS Childrens Village and not part of Computer Labs for Kids' project, but we did use two of those computers to help give last-minute training to some volunteers who had not completed a short online "course" (an outline designed to familiarize the volunteers with what they would be doing while working with the children during the program). Millie and her assistant were soon bringing the children upstairs to get signed in! There was one line of girls and one line of boys. Except for the usual exuberance one would expect from excited five to eight year olds, and one young man who will clearly make an excellent chess grandmaster some day, the children were very well behaved, on their best behavior, and they were all so sweet and shy! The girls went first (because there were fewer of them and courtesy dictates ladies first), and then the boys. All waited mostly patiently in line to give me their names and be checked in. I just wanted to hug them all, but hugs are not appropriate from a stranger, so I gave them what I hope was my best smile as I scrunched myself down to their height and learned the correct pronunciations of their names. Sometimes I had to ask them again because they were so shy and soft-spoken. I tried to commit their names to memory (which would become important later on), although I did make one mistake, which I gravely apologized for later on! Then I put their name tags (suspended by a stretchy sort of shoe-string thingy poked through two holes of a vinyl casing that held a name tag) over their heads and gave them their stickers, explaining that the stickers would be needed for the program. More tomorrow -