We Love Mountain View: “Feel the Love – A Lunch Buddy’s Experience”

I don’t know if there is a phrase that is more overused than “feel the love.” Nor is there a phrase that can be considered more corny, given its overuse. But I have a confession: Yesterday I actually said, “I can feel the love.” I did. I said it. Given that I was an English teacher for years, and would have scorned the use of such a common expression, I should have cringed. But I didn’t. I meant what I said. You see, I was talking to Dr. Stukes, the principal of Mountain View Elementary School. As I was expressing my gratitude for the school’s thank-you breakfast for volunteers, the words came out of my mouth effortlessly and honestly. Volunteering at Mountain View is a joy. I was sharing with Dr. Stukes that there is a peace in its very atmosphere. Children smile as they move through the hallways; teachers smile greeting the kids.

I volunteer in a 4th grade class every week, usually pulling apart student math workbook/textbook pages and stapling them together for the teacher. (Believe me, his personal time is better spent with his own kids than it is doing this task!) While helping with this or any other task in the classroom, I get to observe students’ faces and hear their participation in learning. It is a pleasant time in a pleasant place.

But it is in the cafeteria with my lunch buddy that I get the real sense of the sweetness of this unique school. When I first served as a buddy last year, I was a little apprehensive about the potential for conversation. “What would we talk about?”. But kids are easy to be with. When my buddy sees me come in, he pops up from his seat and joins me at the “buddy” table. He’s an eater! So I don’t push the conversation as he’s trying to finish. It’s not a time of questioning anyway. Rather, it’s just two buds hanging and chatting about whatever’s going on. A game of checkers on my phone is a low-key way to open things up, and I don’t mind losing. “King me!” he laughs. I smile and forfeit a few more jumps. And then one day a bomb drops, and I find out that my buddy is homeless. That’s not something that I can fix, but I can listen. Kids will give warnings ahead of time: “We’re going to move.” But they can’t say when or to where. On another visit (and after forfeiting two kings on a double jump!), I find out that my buddy’s been in a motel, or with a relative. And the next week, he’s gone.

It’s easy to envision a school as a collage of faces, smiles, frowns, laughter, and even tears sometimes, but Mountain View is a place where you can feel the love. As volunteers, we are not fixers. We are helping hands or listening ears. We smile a lot, because there is joy in this place called Mountain View Elementary School.

Mike Foreman