August 3, 2015
By: Lia Baciu
Hello captive audience!
Let me introduce myself. I won’t do it half-heartedly and with apprehension. I won’t stop mid-sentence because I feel like you’re not listening to me. I won’t just stand there staring at you because I don’t know what to do next, or because you’re wearing some really intense black lipstick and a flower crown. Ok, maybe I wish you were wearing a flower crown while you read this…
My name is Liana. I’ve been a Community Program Coordinator at Health Out Loud since November 2014. The would-be apprehensive, black-lipstick-fearing, gawker I just painted is me at our first official Community event – a nutrition, dance and exercise event in January 2015 with the Newcomer Youth Mentorship program of the YMCA.
As the students gathered together at the Center For Community Partnerships at U of T, my anxiety about keeping youth interested and engaged was growing by the second. Lucky for me, I knew Steph (managing director), Khevna (marketing) and Justin (community) all had my back. I had shared laughs and woes with Steph and Khevna in a student service learning program once upon a time, and Justin and I had run a dance collective together. They’re really the kind of people who you want to have on your team in nervous times! (Even if they’re just laughing at your discomfort.)
So there we were, passing a ball in a circle with about 20 youth. As we were learning each other’s names I started to get more comfortable. “Cici”? “Jeffer?”… Clearly not comfortable enough to remember everyone’s name, but I was getting ready to teach some easy equipment-free exercises in the next segment. Diagrams, step-by-step actions, only the best flow – you name it, I had planned and overplanned it into my segment.
Before that day I had volunteered for different organizations working with adults, people experiencing poverty, people with disabilities and other special populations. I even privately tutored math to middle and highschoolers. But nothing could have prepared me for teenagers doing fitness.
After warming them up and getting them giggling, Steph introduced me and I was SO ready to get down to business! Yes – this was my time to shine, baby! Instructor extraordinaire ready for action! I imagined them all as young superheroes, ready to wow me with their athletic prowess and put me to shame at the not-as-ripe age of 25.
Except… that I had imagined that they would all have the printout of the fool-proof plan that I had made… And… that when we got to planks and shoulder bridges what was left over were laughing piles of teenagers…
I asked them to pause and gather themselves, and told them to readjust. Isn’t that what classroom management is? I struggled back and forth between silence and something that I imagined to be a solid, authoritative tone for the next 10-15 minutes.
Well, needless to say, I learned an important lesson that day. Hanna, the wonderful supreme leader of the YMCA mentorship program took over, showing me how to get the audience’s attention. I made sure not to forget that lesson a week later when teaching 3 high school groups at our U of T HOL conference. Let’s say the second time’s the charm for this, er, teaching dynamo.
Next was Justin’s amazing hip hop dance segment. Everyone was moving and bobbing along with the music coming out of our mini speakers. The students were really starting to shake it up. A group of three girls that had stuck together from the beginning sheepishly looked around; slowly they began to lose self-consciousness and really join in the dance. Finally, we got to put all of the moves together into a continuous choreography. I fumbled my way through what probably looked like the Sean Desman “armpit sniff” we used to love in middle school while watching my no-longer-flower-crowned friend in the front row work it.
Some youth lingered in the main room with Zarin – who was the newest and most energetic member of our team, I came to find out later. The rest of us moved into the long and narrow kitchen to cook hummus, parfait and soup mix. My team was in charge of making the hummus and I had three lovely helpers. One of my teammates had done some culinary classes and knew how to get everything ready. He taught me to tell people when I was behind them so that I wouldn’t get backed into. He showed me how to cut the lemon and mince the garlic well. I loved learning so much from him and the other participants. A savvy (mostly raw vegetarian) exerciser, I find the kitchen home to scary pointy things that I don’t want to provoke. We made a mean hummus together, with everyone getting a turn on the blender – even yours truly.
Finally, when all the food was finished we ate together in the main activity room. I then had a chance to sit down with our three shy girls and Zarin, and chit chat about university and academics. The girls were very sweet, Zarin a willing mentor. All the worrying built up an appetite so I was busy indulging in hummus and carrots while I listened.
After our two hours together we wrapped things up. The youth gracefully thanked us and gathered themselves to brave the winter cold. In the kitchen, we got everything together and began to clean up. The simple matter of the dishes – and the alarming lack of dish soap – remained. Yours truly spent the next two hours chatting with Steph, washing dishes in isopropyl alcohol and hoping the dishsoap gods would smile upon us. Fumes be damned, Khevna came to the rescue with some dishsoap an hour later. The wonderful custodian of CCP allowed us to do a big load of dishes in their dishwasher, relieving me of what was becoming a potent headache.
That workshop was all in a day’s work for the Community Programs team. It wasn’t the easiest or smoothest event, but the sense of connection and teamwork that was built, not only with our guests but within our own team, was the start of something beautiful.