Lenten Reflections: Preparation, Meditation, and Potential
By Jayce Hafner
I watched the toddlers shyly advance into the room, peeking out from behind their mothers' winter coats, their faces changing when they saw the stack of books and educational toys laid out on the floor. The children released their parents' hands and rushed toward the play area, quickly sorting through the book pile or trying out the various toys strategically positioned to catch their attention. These children were now officially engaged in Reading, Rhyming and Readiness, a Literacy Volunteers of America program where I volunteered throughout high school.
I loved playing with the toddlers because of their creative spontaneity and their desire to learn. They sat rapt throughout our story hours, constructed new works of art during our craft periods, and conjured up all manner of magical and inventive characters in our free play sessions. Each component of the program nurtured a different aspect of the children’s minds, and all the activities stimulated their desire to learn.
Still, perhaps the most significant activity of Reading, Rhyming and Readiness was snack time, when children received a balanced meal to help nurture their bodies and minds. The program leader realized the important role of nutrition in sustaining the toddlers’ energy for work and play, and empowering these children in their physical and mental development. Eating a healthy meal may be a small act, but it is one that has an enormous impact on the rest of a child’s day, and, over time, a child’s life.
Unfortunately, many families cannot provide regular, balanced meals for their children. The toddlers who attended my program often came from low-income families, with a single mother or both parents constantly working just to make ends meet. Other children were newly arrived immigrants, having recently completed a long and arduous journey from their homeland. Although parents want to provide nutritious meals for their children, life circumstances sometimes thwart the noblest efforts. Reading, Rhyming, and Readiness grants these children one balanced meal per week, and while this gesture is helpful, it is not nearly sufficient for the toddlers.
The Declaration of Independence upholds the “right to life,” and people of faith have a calling to help safeguard society’s access to basic amenities, like clean water, education, and nutritious food. We have both a patriotic and a faithful duty to ensure that our nation’s children are not inhibited in their development, or lacking in the basic building blocks for a successful life. The gift of nutritious food not only satisfies a child’s immediate hunger, but also prepares that child to fulfill his or her own calling in the world. Lent is a time of preparation and meditation, and it seems appropriate that we use this season to reflect on ways in which we can best prepare the children of our nation, and the world, to grow to their full potential.
Jayce Hafner is the office manager for the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations.
Photo: Children in a Head Start class in Tuscon, Ariz., eat a nutritious lunch. (Jeffrey Austin)
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