My son Matthew and I go to a lot of baseball games together. I took him to his first game at age 2 ½ and knew right away that I had a fan: When we left after 7 innings (as it was already well past his bedtime), he seemed confused and asked if the game was really over. Since then he's attended (by my estimate) well over 100 more, including last year's MLB All-Star Game and visits this year to Chase Field in Phoenix and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, which we agree is one of the very best. Mostly, though, we are Mets fans who enjoy nothing more than an evening of suffering entertainment at Citi Field.
Still, there's one game every year that stands out above all the others: The one where Matthew shares his passion for the game with some very deserving children and their families. All are residents of homeless shelters run by Win, which provides transitional housing for more than 3,400 people every night—including more than 2,000 kids. Far from the scary shelters you may have read about, Win housing mostly consists of individual residences for homeless moms and their children. The average stay is about 11 months. During that time Win provides childcare assistance (and even a specialized day camp program), job-search programs, and other services to help families transition to permanent housing and independence. Many succeed: 90 percent of those who leave their shelters for supportive housing are still in the same apartment two years later—and their kids have the hope of a brighter future.
We first hooked up with Win through our temple. As part of Matthew's mitzvah (do-good) project, he visited a Win shelter in Harlem and spent time working on crafts and games in the community room with the kids. He connected with the kids, who were as young as 4 and as old as 16, quickly. For Matthew, it was natural to talk to them about sports—which ones they played, what players they liked. Some of the children spoke very little English, but all of them had something to say and found a way to communicate. But while most every kid could name their favorite team, none had ever been to a game. Matthew found that shocking. So he decided to write the Mets and ask if they would donate tickets to the shelter. About a month later, the Mets came through, saying they'd be happy to accommodate Matthew's request on Win's behalf. That first outing, with about 50 kids and their moms, happened week before his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, which made it particularly meaningful—it wasn't just about the party, but about accepting his responsibility as a member of the community and a citizen of the world.
Matthew was inspired to continue his connection to Win. He has attended several more craft days and turned the initial Mets outing into an annual event. This year, I think, was the best yet. Perhaps that's because it was a warm summer evening and no one had to worry about school the next day. Or maybe it's because the Mets—who are now 3-0 in Win games (I hope the team will make note of that for next year's ticket request)—walloped the Atlanta Braves 8-3. But really, it had more to do with the fact that he has gotten to know many of the kids and feels comfortable with them. That works both ways—I marvel at how these wonderful, energetic children gravitate toward him, as if they'd been friends for years. We didn't get to watch much of the game this time. But that's okay. Instead, we took them to the kids' zone, where they hit a plastic ball off a tee in a mini replica of Citi Field (one kid actually hit it out of the park!), played Wii, and tried the dunk tank. Suffice to say they had a blast. As the ninth inning began, heavy wind gusts and a steady drizzle led some of the adults to run toward the exits. But the kids were having none of it. They insisted on staying till the final out, shouting "Let's Go Mets" on cue like dedicated fans. It made Matthew proud.
What makes me proud is that Matthew has found a worthy cause to get involved with and managed to tailor it to his own obsession interest. I wish I'd started him with a volunteering at an even younger age, and I'd recommend that you do so as well. For some great family volunteering ideas, click here, here, or here. And if you're thinking about donating to a worthy cause, I hope you'll consider Win, which has been helping women and children break the cycle of homelessness for 30 years.