During staff meeting Friday Jerry said we'd cut it short because of a multitude of volunteers expected to arrive at any minute.
He asked Mr. Pat to tell the rest of the staff about the 85 or so fifth-graders we expected from Regent School of Austin.
To my surprise, Pat lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Oh!,” he said, “this is about the fifth year in a row they've come out. I thought we'd wind up babysitting the first year, but those kids can work! We love it when they come out.”
Everyone dispersed to their sites to welcome the volunteers and get them going. Soon there were groups working everywhere–around the foundation of Joseph House, behind Benedict, in the woods surrounding the camp grounds, and in the community garden helping to prepare the ground for the next garden beds.
I looked out my office window and thought: That's a passle of 10-year olds!
I grabbed my camera and went to the garden to investigate. Moms, Dads, and teachers were all working with the kids, along with Michael, Matt, and their team leader Naomi, raking, busting clods, asking what we planned to plant when it was ready.
From there I went to the Village. The children were levelling a huge pile of dirt left from the excavation for the foundation for the new Joseph House and carrying it by the shovel full to pack it in around the slab.
But there was a problem: dozens of frogs and toads had buried themselves in the soft dirt and the kids didn't know what to do with them. I suggested a relocation shelter near the Benedict garden and hoped the transition wouldn't prove too hard on our amphibious friends.
Wherever I went kids were working amazingly hard, amid scratchy vines, lifting heavy loads, dragging tree limbs long distances. No whining, no grumping, no sass, no attitude but curious and respectful at all times.
A few hours later everyone had lunch and Jerry gave them a talk about Down Home Ranch. After that they piled into vans and headed back to school.
When Jerry came home that evening he said in wonder, “I couldn't believe the questions those kids asked me after my talk. They were amazing. They really listened to what I said.
“I asked if anybody knew how many chromosomes we have in our bodies. A mom said 23 and a student corrected her by saying it was 23 pair. Then one asked me why the doctors couldn't somehow take out the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome.
“I said I didn't know, but that they were working on figuring out what to do and that I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't one of them that did it someday. And I wouldn't.”
Later, intrigued, I went on the school's web site and learned that Regent School was begun with 17 students in 1992, the same year Down Home Ranch was starting to get underway. Today there are over 800 students K-12.
The school's motto is Coram Deo, which translates roughly as “in the presence of God,” a reminder that wherever we go, whatever we do, whenever it is, we do well to remember that there is a Witness.
And I have a suspicion that Witness is well pleased with Regent School.