AmeriCorps Members Bring a Happy Halloween to Sunnydale!

Kids these days...are awesome!  By Nathan Kim, SF Community HealthCorps member at Tom Waddell Urban Health Center

After two weeks of planning logistics for the Sunnydale Halloween event with two fellow AmeriCorps members, I was ready to pass out bags of public health treats (i.e. apples, toothbrushes, pencils, etc.) and play with the Sunnydale children. Sobering statistics about Sunnydale (SF’s largest public housing project) from public health classes sprung into mind as our groups of volunteers drove by rows of dilapidated houses en route to our respective sites.  But these facts quickly faded into the background as soon as we met the children and the next two hours became a whirlwind of impromptu games and laughter. While the other two volunteers tickled the kids and played board games, I helped families decorate their pumpkins and encouraged their parents to take classic novels, such as Batman vs. Joker and The Book of SHARKS, for their children. I found it both refreshing and surprising that, instead of being mummies or other ghoulish figures, the majority of children were dressed as superheroes and as working professionals. A shy, but keenly intelligent three-year old dressed as a doctor took a Superman stance, lifted her stethoscope above her head, and proclaimed, “I am a superhero!” Then, a middle school aged construction worker took me aside and proudly explained what each of his plastic tools could accomplish. I left the volunteer site, humbled and inspired. Many of these children face overwhelming institutional and sociocultural challenges along with turbulent family backgrounds. Yet, they continue pressing on and dreaming of becoming doctors, master builders, and more. From the bottom of my heart, I root for these brave explorers.   

-The Giant Halloween of Sunnydale.  By Max Ruben - SF Community HealthCorps member at Tom Waddell Urban Health Center

As the gray overcast lingered above and the frenetic sea of orange flooded Market St. to celebrate the recent Giants’ World Series victory, my AmeriCorps peers and I dedicated our afternoons to bringing Halloween merriment to the children of Sunnydale, San Francisco - our own celebration. We were blessed to receive materials for goodie bag assemblage, which was dutifully carried out by our team of volunteers packed in Sunnydale’s Health and Wellness Center. Clementine Cuties decorated as mini pumpkins, apples draped in toga-like wrappings, pencils, toothbrushes, and dental care flyers were placed in 200 goodie bags, all of which were successfully distributed. I could not be more proud of our clan for achieving such a feat, for they exhibited immense flexibility and patience when plan deviations emerged.

I led the first group of volunteers to our respective site - the community middle school where a haunted house and carnival awaited us. Two of us were stationed in the gymnasium to facilitate carnival activities; two more forced to summon our dormant scaring tactics; and the third to capture photos of playfully fearful faces passing through the haunted house’s exit. As one of the “scarers,” I wore a deranged clown mask with hair resembling Doc Brown’s from “Back to the Future” while my peer accepted the flesh-rotted zombie with ten meager hairs flailing about. My colleague, Chantal, whom I believe to be one of the sweetest most nurturing people I know, was obviously sublimating some of that “pent of insanity” Stephen King talks about, for she was utterly successful in mortifying the haunted houses’ participants with her bellowing scream. Any worries that the haunted house would somehow be lacking were obliterated. The children seemed to have received what they desired - a few moments of Halloween terror.

Although I cannot fully relate with the social-cultural hardships the children of Sunnydale have experienced, I am hopeful that our contributions to the Halloween festivities provided them with fond memories similar to the ones I possess as I reminisce of that juvenescent excitement Halloween invariably brings year after year. I take their cheerfully frightful faces as a good sign that we achieved our goal in bringing Sunnydale its own orange celebration, one in which a baseball championship is not required, but where young giant hearts abound.