Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog written by WITS mentor (currently volunteering in three different programs!) and Writer/Actor/Filmmaker Eve Rounds. She approached this blog as if she were writing a movie script: bolded headings below function as screen directions.
WITS serendipitously became a part of my life in the fall of 2019. Over the summer, my Dad had died in a truly tragic, movie-worthy car accident. (That is still devastating for me to type.)
From then on I was struggling. Every. Single. Day. Waking up and re re re realizing that my Dad was gone. How could I possibly begin to cope with this? I’m by nature and by trade an artist: actor, writer, and filmmaker. However, none of my expressive mechanisms could alleviate even the slightest bit of this all-encompassing pain that I was experiencing at all waking hours.
INTERIOR – EVE’S OFFICE – NIGHT
What I needed was a connection to my Dad. A sort of active grieving process. In every way, he was the most giving man I have ever known. My siblings would very emphatically agree here. As a Dad, he was the best. His volunteer work was truly epic: from leading middle school robotics club as “Coach Nick” to getting eyesight screenings in multiple counties worth of South Carolina public schools. But his favorite day of the week was the one he spent reading to kindergarteners and third graders. Having an actual epiphany, I found myself googling “chicago reading to kids”.
ZOOM IN – EVE’S LAPTOP SCREEN
WITS was seeking mentors at the exact time I was seeking to be one. I promptly completed the volunteer form and attended orientation, raring to get started.
INTERIOR – PEREZ ELEMENTARY – MORNING
My first day of reading one-on-one with four very different five-year-old boys. I was extremely nervous (Will they like me? What if I don’t have the patience? Am I cool?), but they were all accepting and genuine in their own unique ways. Surely some of them were there as a way to escape their classroom for 15 minutes, but the reasoning didn’t matter to me. I was just glad to be there and make them smile. And I smiled back. Real big. (To answer the burning questions I posed above: Yes. I did. Cool enough.)
EXTERIOR – EVE’S CAR – MORNING
Sitting in my car after my first session with WITS, I sobbed, overwhelmed by the joy that these boys and array of nostalgic books brought me. Driving home I continued sobbing, severely missing my Dad, the grief engulfing me. However, every week following, upon leaving the school, I found myself crying less and allowing this unconventional mourning process to continue. And every week, I saw such massive improvements in these kids’ reading and communication skills. What an honor to be a part of little brains expanding, all the while getting to connect with my silly inner child. My Dad would have loved hearing about this.
I was lucky to have those six months with my boys. But like everyone else, in March of 2020 the mandatory quarantine created a void in my life. Many voids really. I had come to depend on my weekly reading sessions to ground me, bring me moments of joy, and to hold my Dad close.
SUPER: TWO YEARS LATER
Fortunately, I had stayed in touch with a few of the WITS coordinators (and stalked the WITS instagram page.) Finally! Virtual reading sessions were underway. After another orientation, this time via Zoom, I was ready to venture into the eight grade. Needless to say, quite a different experience, it being virtual plus working with such older scholars. I loved it, instantly bonding with my two teenage girls. I wanted to help more, so I picked up another weekly virtual, 3rd Graders. They were definitely more challenging due to technical issues and the typical attention span of nine and ten year olds, but fulfilling nonetheless. I received an email on February 24th for the opportunity to read in person with kindergarteners! I’m pretty sure I made some kind of squeaking sound at the sight of it. Posthaste, I uploaded the required proof of vaccination and was ready for my new scholars, this time without the nerves.
SOUND EFFECT: CHIMES AND HARP
INTERIOR – DRAKE ELEMENTARY – MORNING
The spring in my step was uncontrollable as I bounced to the school on the first Monday of the program, and every Monday thereafter. Shocking yet understandable, these kids weren’t very familiar with words, letters, or even physical books. After all, they had no pre-K due to the pandemic. Though I’m pleased to report that all of my kids enjoyed sharing the names of their pets, favorite colors, and more often than not, a hug. Again I saw such progress in only a matter of a few months. Again—I felt such satisfaction knowing my small part in their expedited evolution.
VISUAL EFFECT: SCREEN BLUR
I’d like to think that all of my scholars feel safe with me. The kindergarteners— enough to share the fun stuff in their lives, but also to push through and sound out tricky words without being self conscious. The third graders—enough to know that even if their internet goes out, our book will still be up on the screen when they get back online. The eighth graders—enough to introduce me to K-pop and ask me about depression, anxiety, and how to cope with losing someone. I am proud to be a constant in all of their lives for these very reasons. They can and do rely on me. They know that when they log in or run into the cafeteria, I’ll be waiting, ready to read, talk and listen.
INTERIOR – EVE’S OFFICE – MORNING
While I anticipate grieving the loss of my Dad for my entire life, I’ve felt the heaviness lift enough to be content, laugh, and go on. In the end, I depended on my little scholars just as much (maybe more) as they depended on me. They helped me heal. Sure, I’m forever left with emotional scars, but they are welcome memories of my Dad. Now all of my scholars from five to fourteen years old provide me with stability in an industry of last minute auditions and plenty of “No thanks”-es. Now I simply enjoy my time with them. WITS inspires mentors and scholars to be present. Internal struggles, homelife, the state of our country, the violence in the world: these things don’t exist when you’ve got a book and a kid.
FADE TO BLACK