Hug in a Hard Place

SSDN (South Side Day Nursery) was founded in 1886 and is an anchor for the South Saint Louis community it serves. The school delivers high-quality childcare and preschool education that prepares children for success in school, while enabling their parents and guardians to work, receive job training, or attend school. SSDN is able to take in 101 children at a time.

While a majority of the families SSDN serves work hard to make ends meet, they aren’t always able to. Children in the school often go homeless and hungry. The number one must-asked-for item last Christmas was a pillow. SSDN provides not only education but food, health care, and a safe place to sleep.

I spent three days at SSDN photographing the students, teachers, parents and daily activities. It was hard work and I volunteered for it because I believe in the mission and the needs that this school serves. I experienced many emotions in those three days. Sometimes I laughed with joy and other times I was in tears.

I found that a lot of the children were starving for physical contact. I saw it the most in the older children. Maybe it is because they are a little less afraid to reach out. On my first day at SSDN, I entered room 5 and one little boy came up to me very slowly. I assumed because of the size of my camera that he was coming to get a closer look. Instead, when he was within arms' reach, his hands reached up to the sky. I looked down on the little boy and as our eyes met, his tiny hands touched my hips. It was not quite a hug but more of an attempted hug, and before I could pull him closer or even touch his head he was gone.

Not so far away was a little girl who had been watching me. When she saw I was giving out hugs she ran up to me, coming to a complete stop with the toes of her shoes nearly touching mine. She peered at me with large brown doe eyes. I asked her, “Would you like a hug?” Her little head nodded up and down and as she smiled, I opened my arms, and she fell into me. She gave me a squeeze then off she ran to her assigned spot on the rug for circle time.

At first I questioned myself: Had I done something wrong? Is hugging allowed here? I made a mental note to myself to ask an adult if I had broken a rule. And while I would feel badly if I learned that I had done something wrong, a part of me didn’t care. Those little children just needed a moment of love -- a touch that said, "You are accepted." I was happy that I could provide that feeling, but they in turn, had given it back to me.

It was especially hard to leave for home when I overheard one two year old little boy tell his mother that I was his friend. But home I had to go.Learn more about my time at the school in a dedicated gallery at:
To learn more about SSDN or even make a donation please visit www.SSDN.org