Interview with Emily Fankhauser
– Curator, 40-year Kids Club Reunion
NM Founder Kit Danley chats with Emily, who was the Kids Life/Kids Club Director 2006-2011, and has been part of the worship teams at Neighborhood Church and the kids’ programs ever since.
Q: What was your experience curating the 40th reunion event for Kids Club and what motivated you to take on this momentous task?
A: I think that … for me, the reason that I wanted to help with the reunion when it was first mentioned, reminded me of something you said to me years ago, “Emily, I think you found your forever home.” So this event was simply inviting people into a family reunion, not a program with a structure. We were inviting people to remember and to celebrate being together.
The planning piece was somewhat sentimental. I spent hours and hours going through the hundreds and hundreds of pictures, saying to myself we are all in a really large family. As I went through the pictures, I couldn’t help but pause and pray for this one, or ask out loud “where are they now?”, “how are they doing?”, I was filled with every kind of emotion as we got this reunion ready.
We had more than one activity for the night for people to participate in. The leaf activity was a way of mimicking the large important day of Kids Club when the whole camp reflects back through the lessons of the two weeks. I found myself doing the activity as if I was a child or a leader in the program.
When I ran Kids Club, I was too busy to interact at the deep level, this time I had the space and the capacity to be present with the two questions we asked at the leaf activity center. When I was deciding on the right leaf template, it was a time for me to ask those two questions to myself: 1.) what impact has KC made on you? 2.) can you offer a prayer for those who are today’s Kids Club kids?
As I was thinking about my time at Neighborhood and KC, I could name how their impact spreads into everything I do … it provided a big piece of how I see, how I love, who I am and how I live.
We created a memorial garden, an outside prayer and meditative space honoring those who we have lost over the years. This space felt challenging to me as it’s not my own cultural background to celebrate and honor the deceased. But I loved it and found it very meaningful. These loved ones are part of our community and we miss them.
I loved making the frames with the image of Jesus and the lost sheep. The words were perfect, words we have been teaching the children from the bible for years, where Jesus says to us: “I Will Never Leave You”.
Like the leaf activity, I chose to be a child again, or a leader in the program, to sit with that lesson, that truth, and be inside that promised presence. At the party I didn’t feel busy, or distracted, I saw people posting that shepherd image and those words which really resonate with each of us, online.
The night was fun, sentimental, hard, sweet … profound. The people I really love and don’t get to see very often were there, people who are now apart of me and so meaningful to me, brothers and sisters, from all sorts of backgrounds and lives that once long ago, were so different from where I come from.
A few moments stand out for me as I reflect back on the event. Two young men (who came to Neighborhood when they were boys) from the South Side came in at the end. I watched their eyes as they looked around the room … “this place was everything when I was a kid, the happiest place I ever had as a kid”.
I told them to come to church on Sundays, they said they want their kids to be a part of Monday nights. Two kids — now adults — who I didn’t think I’d ever see again, remembering together that this place is home.
Another was watching Victor honoring the decades old relationships he has with three volunteers who bonded with him and his homies when they were kids. They nicknamed one of them “Old Man Marley” after the home alone scary neighbor oh those many years ago. This award for these favored men was called just that, the “Old Man Marley” award. Just watching his smile, his joy and his gratitude to be the one honoring these men for their faithfulness was priceless.
Also, I loved standing back and watching so many grabbing photos from the table and running over to the people in them and saying remember??? Sharing them with each other, asking if they could take them home, taking pictures of the pictures with their phones. So much of this went on that night.
Q: Of everything you wanted this event to be … what worked?
A: Hearing … oh my gosh . . . so many saying, “I am remembering that this is home”. That came to light that night, and I am so thankful for that. I hope so many come back as volunteers, bringing their kids, coming back home. That was a big hope for me.
A thing that was really important to me, was that each one saw themselves in the event, they would see themselves there … and that happened. Each one found pictures of themselves, with their leader, in the van. People could see themselves. They are part of this place.