Thursday, August 24, 2006

I wanna go where everybody knows my name

I am inspired.

Yesterday I volunteered at our kids’ middle school, serving ice cream and selling school supplies during lunch for all three grades (6-8th).

I got to chatting with the police liaison assigned to our school - I'll call him Officer Jones. All the kids love him. He directs traffic in the morning, does funny dances, shakes their hands or salutes the boys as they come in, and treats the girls like they are young ladies crossing a drawbridge into a castle as they cross on the crosswalk toward the school.

I have never seen him without a smile on his face. He is so obviously enjoying himself, you just can’t help but smile along, too.

As I watched him during three lunch periods, I was even more amazed. Officer Jones played a game teaching the kids sign language (whether real or made up, I’m not sure). He had twenty kids at a time in rapt attention, all hoping to win the coveted prize - ice cream (paid for by his own cash) from my little booth.

But the most incredible thing of all: he knew just about every child’s name (there are over 1000 students in our middle school). As they walked by, he air-high-fived each one. “How ya doin', Amanda?” he’d say. Amanda would wave a little embarrassed wave, but would be beaming. Everyone knew what she was thinking: “I must be somebody. Officer Jones knows who I am.”

I asked Officer Jones about it later. After listening to several of his jokes, I stopped laughing long enough for him to tell me he served as the police liaison for one of our city's high schools for several years. He said he would always see kids sitting alone at lunch. “Lonely in a crowd,” he said, “as if they didn't know anybody.”

So he was determined to learn the loners' names. He did. The kids came to him like pins to a magnet.

Soon other kids began to come to him and ask him, “Do you know my name?” He learned a few more. It didn’t take long before he realized he was going to need to learn EVERYONE’s name. So that’s exactly he did. He took the yearbook, and memorized everyone’s name in the entire senior class - over 700 names - plus the names of any siblings they had at the school.

Now that he’s been working with middle schoolers for a while, he’s memorized several years’ worth of graduating classes. Remarkably, he recites them in alphabetical order.

Aside from displaying his phenomenal memorization technique, Officer Jones obviously enjoys this age group, and his devotion to the kids is astounding. Who would go to such uncommon lengths just to know a child’s name? And in middle school - the time when kids are deciding who they want to be, and experience the most acute need for acceptance.

Could there be a better way to show you care? I can’t think of any.

I am terrible with names. There are people whose kids go to school with mine, or who I’ve gone to church with literally for years, and I still don’t know their names. There are kids in Sunday school and the youth group I need to get to know. There are neighbors I need to meet.

But I want to be someone like Officer Jones - someone who gets past my own personal awkwardness and looks for those who are “lonely in a crowd.”

This is not a natural thing for me, but can still see those adolescent faces light up, knowing someone cared enough to get to know them. I have vivid memories of those adults who showed interest in me when I was that age.

Maybe taking a chance on a frienship could begin with something small - like learning someone's name.

Will you join me?
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
Isaiah 43:1

18 comments:

Kristine said...

I've been reading your blog for some time now. I really love this post. It is so important for other's to know that they are important to us, and hopefully through us, important to God. I appreciate your commitment to make a change and impact the lives of others!

Kris said...

I too am bad with names, but I do recognize the need of everyone to be special. I am going to try harder. Thanks for sharing.

Katrina said...

Wow, what a wonderful and inspirational man! And so true - remembering people's names (and especially kids' names, I think) shows we care and makes them feel special. Good post!

Amanda said...

Thank you for sharing such a sweet story. This man obviously loves the children!

I am also bad with names and am shy myself. I met one of my best friends ever by stepping out of my comfort zone and introducing myself to her. I am so glad I did!

Code Yellow Mom said...

There's the old saying: "The most beautiful word in any language is a person's own name." I love it when my husband calls me by name before he starts a sentence (even though pet anms are sometimes sweet)...and it is truly wonderful when someone I know or admire remembers and uses my name. I can just imagine how fabulous it can make a middle-schooler feel to know that he/she isn't getting by unnoticed or unnamed.

Great post!

voni said...

Good story! My husband once told me that one of the secret to working with young people was to find the least popular kid in the group and become his friend. Other kids see that and feel secure about your acceptence of them. Funny that even the populer kids can feel insecure. The officer sounds like a wise man and a good friend:)

Heather said...

I learned this same thing when I was substiture teaching. The easiest way to be a good substitute is to know every kids name. I made it a point of knowing every child's name before first recess. I never had a problem with discipline and I think tht is why. They loved tht I knew their names, and they knew that if they messed up I knew which kid to mention to the teacher. I still use this when I sub for our Sunday School classes at church. Now most of the 5 and underrs come up and give me a hug and I can say hello to them, with their name. They love it. I can still remember kids names no problem, now if I could just remember adult names. :(

She-Ra said...

Very powerful post - thanks for sharing. Very inspirational that Officer Jones guy.

Michelle- This One's For The Girls said...

I substitute teach on Fridays too--and I always try to get all the names down ASAP. But Officer Jones is amazing! I am totally impressed. How fortunate your school system is!

Laurel Wreath said...

I am sooo bad at names, and it is something I really have to "work at", like make a funny saying in my head so I can remember their names. It frustrates me to no end.

What a special officer they have!!!

Jennifer said...

That is really wonderful that he has taken the effort. I am actually very good with names, but sometimes don't use names of acquaintances, because I think that they don't know mine, and I guess I don't want to seem odd, or for them to think, "Why does she know my name?" Weird, I know. So, I do try to greet people by name, and I'm going to redouble my efforts, because yes, it's important, KATHERINE.

anderjam said...

Wow, all those names!
I think some people have a photographic memory and it makes it easier...i definately do NOT have that!

Tammy
www.beadsofcharm.com

Jen said...

Very good post......you are exactly right....a smile and a hello goes a long way...
Jen

Susanne said...

Your school is truly blessed to have an officer who truly cares for the kids. What an awesome example he is to them. Hopefully the kids will remember that and in turn do the same for another child!

Rachel Anne said...

You never cease to inspire! Stop it, will ya?!

Tammy said...

Oh, wonderful again!
He does sound like such an inspiration. I am also bad with names...but maybe we just need to take the officer's cue and simply make it more of a priority.

And in school, there were a few years that I felt alone in the crowd. I was painfully shy. So I just know that officer is blessing some a lot of people...and some will have needed it so much!

Thank you for sharing this inspiring story, Katherine!

Nadiah Alwi said...

Such a wonderful officer!

Very inspiring. I think I'll try memorizing names.

Have a great weekend!

Gina said...

Every school needs and Officer Jones! Thanks Kimber-, uh I mean Katherine, for sharing. [WINK]