Ashley and the Camera

Graduating means completing many activities for the last time. On Friday, I met with my mentee, Ashley, for the last time.

I mentored another girl for 3 years, but we stopped meeting when she went to middle school. I missed doing it, so I told the coordinator I would be willing to start up with a new little girl if she needed someone. I also talked to the coordinator about social work, and I asked her to write reference letters for me.

Not too long after, she called and said, “If you’re serious about social work, you’re the perfect person for this spunky first grader in need of a mentor.”

Yes, Ashley was spunky. And there were weeks she exhausted me, but I love her. She told me she gets “cold with excitement” when I came. She also told me that swallowing an apple seed could allow a tree to grow inside of you if you also “swallowed light for it.” She never ate more than the main food (pizza, mac & chese, hot dog) of her (disgusting*) school lunch. She usually brought 50 cents to buy me a chocolate milk. She finally gave me an unsolicited hug on our last day together. And she loves cameras, like I do.

For her birthday, I gave her a purple kitten journal (which was completely ugly, but I knew she liked purple and kittens), and a disposable camera. I told her I would develop it for her if she took all the pictures and brought it back. I wrote her mom a note explaining this. I told her teacher. I reminded her to bring it for weeks. And, finally, on our last week of meeting, she brought it.

I developed the pictures today.

Often times, we don’t fully understand the at-home situations of many of the kids in the mentoring program. Sometimes parents request a mentor, sometimes teachers request a mentor. I knew Ashley lived with her mom and a man who was not actually her dad. I also knew she had biological siblings, step-siblings and half-siblings.

I had asked if I could look at her pictures, and she said yes. A child’s perspective of life through the lens of a camera is so interesting to me.** The pictures revealed a small dirty house, kids playing video games, her brother giving the middle finger (I threw that photo away), and a few really sort of beautiful photos.

**Jamie Oliver would have been disgusted by the fact that my Christian elementary school catered in KFC, McDonald’s and pizza for lunch each week.

**This interest came from seeing Born Into Brothels, and it was perpetuated by reading this article and hearing about this cause.

picture of us taken at arm's length by Ashley
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