In the early 90's I ran an academic enrichment program in ten elementary schools on Saturday mornings.
I would recruit, train and organize volunteers to go into "at-risk" public schools to tutor and mentor children and I would regularly volunteer too.
The interesting thing (to me) was that hundreds of kids would attend.
Hundreds of children came to school on Saturday!
It spoke to how few options there were for them.
The children were all considered "low-income."
The principals of all ten schools told me that they believed the children were desperate for attention from caring adults.
I remember the kids being terrifically interested in learning and excited to talk and laugh with us.
They would tell us things about each other.
Pretty rough things, actually.
From the school staff we learned which kids most likely got themselves up for school each morning and how many children showed up without having eaten anything.
We heard terribly sad things about the lives of the bright, young faces that sat before us eager to get started on math, reading, or science activities -- ANYTHING.
Anthony and I instantly connected.
It's funny how feeling connected with someone happens regardless of age differences. There are some kids that I just get, who seem to get me, and we click.
Anthony was like that. We clicked right away.
The other kids routinely gave Anthony a hard time and I couldn't figure out why. He was a good looking, friendly kid.
The other students made sure I knew about Anthony's family.
His father was in prison for murder. His mother worked the streets. There were guns and drugs...
They taunted and teased him about it all in front of me, judging him.
Knowing these things only made me feel all the more fiercely protective and loyal. I just adored him.
Anthony's favorite activity was art.
He marvelled and delighted over the just-purchased art supplies the volunteers would bring to the "Saturday School."
Anthony confided in me that he dreamt he would be an artist when he grew up.
That was the first time I wanted to help a child achieve a dream.
That week I went out and bought art supplies for him. Colored pencils, markers, drawing paper... I couldn't wait until Saturday. I knew he would be excited.
On Saturday he wasn't there.
The other kids told me that he "suddenly moved away" and didn't know anything more than that.
I never saw him again but I've never stopped thinking about him.
I hope he made it through and that I'll find him again someday, his work on the wall of a local gallery.
Art by Richard Watson