Taking a Breath

September 18, 2017

Editor’s Note: Born This Way Foundation recently partnered with Minnesota Alliance With Youth as part of our Channel Kindness Tour in St. Paul, Minnesota on August 21, 2017. As part of the tour, Channel Kindness is shining a light on each of our nonprofit partners and sharing their stories of heroic acts of kindness within their own organizations and communities. Kaela Schweisthal served as an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow with Minnesota Alliance With Youth, and this is her story of why their work is important to her.

In the middle of a busy and loud hallway, two people stand together, arms around each other in a comforting embrace. Walking by them, you can see tears rolling down a girl’s cheek with a boy whispering in her ear. People look in their direction, but eventually keep moving on, heading to their destinations, deciding not to intervene. No one stops to see if they can help. No one offers reassuring words.

I see this play out as I descend the stairs and make my way down the hallway, on my way to a class. Both of these students are newer to the school; I was there on their first days. I approach them and see the boy wiping tears from the girl’s face. He looks at me and his eyes seem to say, “What should we do?” “Here, let’s go to my office.” I usher them both down the hall and through the door. They sit on a couple of ottomans that are pushed together. He wraps her up in a sweater and still holds her close. I get a box of tissues, some water, and some Cinnamon Toast Crunch. “You can stay here for as long as you need.”

Over the next half hour or so, I ask if they need anything, tell them I’m here to listen and keep offering tissues. We sit in silence for a while. She tries to speak, but her breath is too shaky. The boy and I look at each other and we know that we don’t understand and she isn’t ready. But over time, she calms down. The tears slow and she gets her voice back. She has just received word that there’s been a death in the family. A cousin. Very young. Instead of going home, she wants to take a few more minutes and then go to her last class of the day. They eat more cereal and all we hear is crunching. They talk more about their families, their home, their old school. Composure is eventually regained and we are ready to head back out into the world with chins up.

We leave the room and walk back down the hallway to class. The boy’s arms are still around her shoulders, a cup of cereal in his hand. “Thank you for that. We wouldn’t have been able to do this at our old school. Nobody cared and nobody listened.”

This is why I do this.

By Kaela Schweisthal