This is what it's all about.
I am off today, as a "comp" day from working the whole weekend. It's nice--in my former life, if I worked weekends there was no such thing as comp days because the next event was barreling down on you and there was no time to take a day to recover. But at this job, most things can wait, and I can take one little day off (since I worked 2 I wasn't necessarily scheduled to) to relax and rejuvenate.
The reason I worked all weekend is we had some extra funds on one of the grants I manage to do education for the kids in the clinic. The grants I work with are HIV/AIDS grants--we provide services for women and children (and their families) affected by the disease. My job is very behind the scenes--I do the budgeting and the bill paying and such--so I rarely get to actually see the money in action. This time, though, was different. We decided to do a weekend conference for 12 of the families we see, and, because of my background in planning things like this, I was on the frontlines of the action.
And it was honestly the best two days I have had since I started this job two and a half years ago.
Not that I haven't had good days at this job--I love the people I work with and I like what I do. But being around those kids and their families... and being responsible for this awesome event that brought them all together... people, that is what it's all about.
Most of these kids had never met anyone else their age with HIV. They were all affected through their mothers (I think...), and so they've had it their whole lives. As you can probably figure, HIV isn't something a kid can talk about with his or her friends (imagine all the problems that could cause at school!). So finally, really for the first time in their lives, they were able to talk about this with kids JUST LIKE THEM. God, it makes me teary eyed just thinking about it.
We had the conference at Great Wolf Lodge, a resort in Williamsburg that has an indoor waterpark. The funding we had allowed us to cover all of the expenses for the weekend, which made it even better, because I'd say at least 90% of these families would NEVER be able to afford this sort of getaway for their family. One kid, at lunch on Saturday, was talking about how much fun he was having and how cool the place was and he said, "Ahhhh, pure luxury!" To hear that from a kid who was born with an awful illness and who is a foster kid with god only knows what sort of life up to this point... seriously, that is what it's all about. I will never forget that moment.
One of the teens came in on Saturday morning looking all forlorn and pissed that he was there. No smiles, arms crossed, slouched in the chair. Sunday afternoon when he left, he could not stop smiling and was hugging his new friends and shaking hands and... SMILING. HAPPY. Wow, it was amazing. One grandmother told a co-worker of mine that her 18-year old granddaughter had sung in the shower that morning. She said her granddaughter used to sing all the time, but she hadn't heard her do that in more than five years and that she had been very depressed, but told her grandmother that she was actually happy this weekend. PEOPLE--THIS IS WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT. And while these examples might give you a little bit of an idea, it is really something you have to experience to truly know the wonderful feeling you get.
When I got home yesterday afternoon I was exhausted, but it was that good exhaustion that is a result of really caring about something and wanting to make it right and putting all your energy into something and then watching it all come to fruition and be successful. It is something I truly miss about my job at the Arthritis Foundation, when I felt that all the time. This was the first time I had really seen that what I do at VCU, no matter how non-visible, actually does make a difference in peoples' lives. And that is the only thing I ever knew I wanted to do with my life--make a difference. I am rejuvenated and repurposed in what I do. I can't wait until next year's conference.