The Warmth of Welcome
People I know mistakenly believe I’m an extrovert. I’ve gotten a few raised eyebrows and gone back and forth with some of my friends when I insist that I’m not. Sure, I’m a talker and when I’m comfortable with someone or I have the floor I can talk for hours about topics that interest me. But for the most part I prefer one on ones to large groups. I prefer walks in nature to big parties and when I’m tired from spending time with lots of people I will often pass up getting together for a chance to stay home and quietly recharge in solitude.
The reason some might be confused is because in the work I do I’ve had to learn not to let my introverted ways and insecurities stop me from treating those I meet as valuable. In my profession I’ve met hundreds of children and teenagers and I’ve gone into new classrooms that sometimes were filled with wild extroverted personalities. Unless I’m playing a sport I generally enjoy calm and quiet so my instincts in these situations make me want to turn around and walk out. Instead, I sit quietly observing or asking youth if they’d like some help or someone to read over their school work. In the years that I’ve done this I’ve learned that most youth, children and adults generally want the same thing- to be liked, to be accepted and to be understood. I remember how scared I was as a child learning a new sport among a bunch of kids. They could be ruthless and would yell at you if you messed up. I was often clumsy as a kid so I messed up a lot…or it felt like it back then. There was so much fear of messing up and being labelled and ostracized. (We had a Lord of the flies approach to games)
When kids choose to come to our programs and step into a large gym with balls flying, skipping ropes turning and other kids screaming, I don’t take that for granted. They are trusting us to provide a safe environment where they can have fun. I want them to know that when they walk through the doors they are seen. We have a habit of yelling their names to say hi when they enter the gym. We smile and let them know we are glad to see them. Glad they are here.
Don’t take your smiles for granted. There were times in my life when I was going through a lot when a warm smile from a parent and a hot meal told me that I was loved and valued.
Sometimes we can forget how easy it is to create a warm and safe place for others. I genuinely enjoy people (when I’m not emotionally depleted) and I’ve learned that there are simple ways to help people feel loved and welcomed.
Say hello. Start conversations and ask questions. A friend of mine mentioned the other day that people have lost the art of conversation. This isn’t hard to believe. Show people that you are interested in who they are -not just what they do.
Whenever you are a host or comfortable in an environment, welcome people and offer to make them more comfortable. Introduce them to people and help them to feel accepted. Even in those crazy classrooms I’ve met the most interesting and unique youth. I’ve heard their stories and had some deep conversations all because I try to remember that they are fighting with the same insecurities and when I take the time to see them they become another familiar face in a crowded hallway.
What is something someone did to help you feel more welcomed in a new environment?