An Amazing “Summer School”

It started on a July day in 2004.

Three wide smiles with missing teeth filled my rear view mirror. That image of three giggly girls licking ring pops and bopping to the music is imbedded in my brain. You’d never guess that my two daughters had just met their soon-to-be-sister from Harlem, 6-year-old Evi.

As we pulled into the driveway of our smallish yellow cape, the questions began. “This is your house?” said Evi. “How many families live here?” I watched the foreheads of my daughters, Emily and Olivia, wrinkle in search of an answer. “Um… it’s just us Evi,” said Emily, “One family.”

“Wow! How did you get a park behind your house?” asked Evi. Olivia laughed and said, “Evi, that’s not a park – it’s our backyard.” Our ¼ acre park, I thought.


“Olivia. This is a park where I come from,” said Evi, “And I’m not walking on that grass with these sandals. I do not like grass touching my toes.”

The girls pulled Evi’s tote bag out of the car and ran into the house. First stop: the basement playroom. “You call this a playroom?” said Evi. “It’s bigger than our apartment!”

While Evi bounced around showing us where the kitchen, couch and beds were placed in her real apartment, tears filled Olivia’s eyes. I hugged Evi and told her how lucky we were to have met her.

So began the first of our seven summers (and counting) with Evi. That night at dinner, six-year-old Evi told us about her four younger brothers and sisters – two sets of twins. Her mom was 22. My Emily was sure Evi was mistaken. “Mom,” she whispered to me later that night. “That means Evi was born when her mom was 16. You don’t have kids when you’re in high school.”

“What about your dad, Evi?” said Olivia biting into her taco.

“Well, my daddy died last summer,“ said Evi. “He went to the corner store to buy us some popsicles. My mom says a guy with a gun thought he had drugs and shot him.”

On that first day in 2004, my three girls got an education to last a lifetime. One of hope. The other of gratitude. And it continues every summer. Some people say it’s wonderful that we open up our home to Evi and give her such an amazing gift. What they don’t realize is that the gift that comes back to your family when you share your summer with an underprivileged child is far greater that what you give.

That first summer, Evi learned how to ride a bike – from training wheels to two wheels in less than a week. She got used to going barefoot in our “park.” Evi learned how to swim. How to tolerate sand in her toes. She taught Emily and Olivia how to dance – and how to appreciate what they have. The girls’ favorite activity became riding the ocean waves as the boat spins them around on a tube – without drowning in laughter.

Evi also learned how to read that first year. Every day. How to go to the library and bring books home. She arrived each July reading a level or two behind. But after a few weeks of reading every day, she’d catch up – and take off. It wasn’t always easy. Watching TV for just a short time every day was torture for Evi. It was an adjustment every summer – but adjust we did. We read to her, she read to us and we laughed. A lot.

Two years ago, Evi called and said she was being placed in the gifted program in her new school in Atlanta. Her mom had moved the family down south to be with their cousins. She had enough of Harlem and city life in New York. We panicked that we might not see Evi again.

But we still do. Every summer. And every summer we exchange gifts with Evi. The gift of hope. And the gift of gratitude. An amazing summer.

If you’re interested in hosting an underprivileged child in the summer months, check out these organizations: http://www.freshair.org/, http://www.urgex.net/uop.html, or http://summerofhope.org/host-family.php. It’s never too late.

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