When someone is great at something you just have to stand back and watch them work and admire their talent, skill and commitment. And feel grateful you got to see them do their magic. It could be a great singer, or a great artist, a great mother, a great cook. I mean when you watched Michael Jordan play basketball – you knew you had seen the best. There is no argument.
And Scott Neeson is a Master at knowing the CCF kids, their stories, their breakthroughs and their dreams. As someone on the CCF facebook page said Scott is the “Real Deal”.
Saturday Scott invited me to join him for the Award Ceremonies at two of the CCF Centers. Imagine there are 6 centers and every two months each center awards 3 “Most Improved Student Awards” and 5 “Best Student Awards”. The Awards are some combination of rice vouchers for their families and a cash award to the student.
It was early evening when we reached the Community Center and CCF5.
As we walk through the Community Center to the School area we attract the usual crowd of neighborhood kids who want to hold hands and escort us wherever we are going. We pass the rooms for the resident day care and dozens of wee ones rush to the door way when they see Scott. Waving and laughing these little ones are thrilled to have visitors.
But we are on a mission. It is Award Night so on we go.
The classrooms of CCF5 serve many resident students as well as any number of students who live in the 1 mile or so radius of the old dump. These are open air classrooms with two or three walls, rows of chair or benches and a white board giving ample opportunity for visitors to crowd around for the award ceremonies. Several local parents are there to watch.
From the smallest ones in first grade to the oldest in 5th grade each class stands to greet us with a well rehearsed “hello” in English. The atmosphere is playful and casual as Scott makes funny faces, teases them and calls out personal greetings.
And then the simple ceremony begins. Scott over dramatizes things much to the children’s amusement and listens for them to answer him back in English at every turn. The teachers beam to see their delightful students so animated.
As each name is called with great fanfare Scott points out the winner. With each name he hands me the envelope so I can give the award. And speaks quietly and confidentially in my ear telling me the child’s history, her family struggles, her great success and her hopes. For each child he can remember when he found them or when they came to him petitioning with their little hearts and souls to go to school or when the family desperate and without hope found their way to CCF. And he has photos of all of them. And not just one photo but a series of photos chronicling their transformation from dust covered dump scavenger to star student.
And (in confidence) he whispers the short version of their sad stories. “He was beaten by his father.” “As a small child she was subjected to continued sexual abuse.” “She was sold into indentured servitude.” “At 7 his father abandoned the family and he was the sole supporter of his mother and siblings.”
And then the upbeat part of their stories: “I am so surprised this one did so well, finally.” “And this one has 3 other sisters in the program also top of their class. That is the mother over there.” And I turn to see the proud mom beaming. I give her a little wave of congratulations and her smile widens.
At the edge of the classroom a man is watching. “That man, that is his father” Scott says as he calls the boy’s name and the father quietly weeps with pride.
Over 120 awards in one evening and there is not one child Scott does not recognize, not one he does not call by name, not one he doesn’t remember the story, the day and the hour that he found them.
And the more incredible thing is that with over 1300 children in the CCF – it is the same
With each award a photo is taken that will later be given to the kids. The Number One students get a huge certificate marking their excellence in a gilded frame that is almost as big as some of the smaller winners.
With each announcement the entire classes erupts with applause as excited about the ones who have worked so hard to be in the top 5 as if it were they themselves. When it is a child who has really struggled to do better and gets mentioned as one of the top “most improved” the celebration is even louder.
As usual the CCF experience is mind boggling. My head and heart are spinning.
How does Scott do it – create a world where no one is forgotten? How do the kids do it – go from being abused, hopeless, abandoned and transform into these bright, eager irresistible little beings?