09/09/2014 02:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Little Girl, 10 Years Later


Time flies. Yes, we hear that everyday don't we? And on some days we see it too.

Time flies. Can you see a difference you've made in someone's life?

One of the little girls I met about 10 years ago (when it was just me handing out pajamas and books to children) came to our NYC Reading Center the other day. She stood before me, staring at me. I was confused and I stared back...the dim light in my brain slowly brightened, helping me out of the darkness. When I tell you I was floored, I mean I almost fell to the floor in shock. There, standing before me, was a pretty teenager, a young lady who claimed she was Elizabeth.

"You are not Elizabeth. Elizabeth is 4 years old." I said, looking her squarely in the eyes.

"I'm her," was this stranger's response.

And then she smiled a huge smile and I saw her. My eyes teared, my brain registered and my heart knew. Little Elizabeth.

Arms stretched out, we hugged. My heart was overflowing...and pounding. As I alternately tried to keep hugging her and letting go to look at her full on, she laughed and she let me be the silly pile of mush I had become.

Elizabeth started reading with me when she was about three years old. As we grew with volunteers and then staff, she read with us often. When we opened our first Reading Center nine years ago she and her friends in the group home were regulars. It didn't take long for all of them to feel right at home - in our new home. The group ranged in age from 3 years old to teens. One year we gave out Super Reader Awards and she was one of four children we celebrated. She grew to love books and reading which made us all so proud - we wanted to take pride in what small contribution we hoped we were making. We have photos of Elizabeth as that pre-schooler and we scrambled to find them to show all the volunteers!

Over the past few years when Elizabeth was here it was always too busy for either of us to break away and spend time one on one. Yes, sometimes I noticed that she was taller, that she now read with the little ones, that she often couldn't come with her group because of after school activities. We all forget to make time for the one-on-one connections and I can tell you I regret it. I never saw her growing.

Did we make a difference in her life? I stood there still staring at her. She has grown into a smart, gracious, lovely young lady. I am told by her caregiver that she loves reading, she is doing well in school, she is happy.

She is happy. Here come my tears again. Can we borrow a little of that happiness in her eyes to keep us believing in our work, to keep our eye on the ball, to make another spot available in our Reading Center for another 3 year old?

Yes, time flies. It is rare we can keep track of the children we serve. They are spread across these large United States, from the Northern-most States to the deepest South. They are tucked into every nook and crannie, some hiding, too many forgotten. They are looking for love, someone to call them family, someone to invite them in. Some find a home, grow up day by day and make their way.

And some are standing right in front of us.