My mother and I were waiting on line at Target just the other night, almost ready to check out. My mom greeted the clerk with a smile and a, “How are you?” The clerk replied, “Exhausted and cranky.” Surprised by her own answer the woman smiled and apologized and before long my mom and I had heard her entire story. She discussed how she had just recently lost her job at a large corporation and was still mourning the loss of her father. I listened and related in small ways, but I didn’t say a word in response. It seemed as if for the first time this woman had finally gotten the chance to share her story. Her eyes watered, she laughed and apologized and my mom reached out and put a consoling hand on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, but it felt good to let this out. Good night,” said the clerk.
In December of 2012 I experienced my first Challenge Day, where for the first time every student in the class of 2015 was given the chance to open up to fellow classmates and just be heard. The day moved from silly and awkward to serious and emotional very quickly, but by the end of the day everyone in that gym undeniably felt more connected. It was interesting to get an insight into the lives of students you walk the halls with every day. During the infamous “Cross the Line” you get a small taste of each and every struggle that everyone has ever faced. I walked away from the experience with a better understanding of the people around me and felt encouraged to get to know people better.
This past March 4-6, I was lucky enough to experience my second Challenge Day with the students of 2016. And all of Wantagh was very lucky to have had this second Challenge Day. “Legislator Dave Denenberg was instrumental in our receiving a grant to have programs for Character Education,” said Wantagh High School Principal Carolyn Breivogel.
I was selected to be a teen leader due to my participation in Peer Mentors’ Program. I spent the day learning about the sophomores, most of whom I didn’t know. The tenth grade is fun and outgoing group and they embraced the day with a lot of enthusiasm. I got the chance to talk with many of the 10th graders one on one and learn not only about their hardships, but also their hopes and dreams. I walked away from Challenge Day number two with an understanding that sometimes everyone needs to be given a chance to just be heard and that just by listening to one another teenagers can immediately become more unified.
If I had met the clerk before Challenge Day I might have thought differently about the encounter. I may have thought it was weird the woman was so willing to open up to me and I may not have really listened, but Challenge Day changed my perspective. This woman opened up because everything she was going through was bottled inside and as she spoke you could see the relief on her face that for the first time someone was listening and understood. Although we were strangers when she began to scan our items, we felt like lifelong friends as we walked out of the store.