With the school year ending, I am reminded of an email I sent my colleagues at a previous job discussing the importance of being a "piece" in a community space that promotes inclusivity, love, and respect. This email was inspired by the many students that found friends, family, and plenty of food during "Puzzle Fridays".
"Puzzle Friday" is a special part of the HHC because it gives everybody, both staff and students, the opportunity to sit at the table and be a piece of the bigger picture that makes up the HHC family. In addition, the puzzle acts as a bonding agent for the group, in which the common goal of completion is obvious, even if the relationship-building elements are a bit more obscure. While puzzling, life experiences are shared, connections are made, and relationships are built.
For the past year, jigsaw puzzles have been influential in developing a community within the Homework Help Center, where students and staff come together as individual pieces to connect as a family unit. These puzzles, ranging from 500 to 1000 pieces, are challenging to say the very least, as many need pictures to use as a guide toward completion. The participants often bring the skills to complete these puzzles, as we rely on the world-renowned "3 C's" method to finish each puzzle: communication, critical thinking, and cookies. This time of puzzling is significant to the familial structure of the Homework Help Center as Fridays provide us with a time to collectively, as a family unit, take a deep breath and be free of the hustle and bustle that make up most of the week. The setting is simple, a giant puzzle scattered on a table with a community of caring people surrounding it, all looking to solve the big picture piece by piece. In many ways, this symbolizes the center's leadership and overall environment. The staff is responsible for each component inside the HHCA, connecting those that fit while also looking at the big picture. Part of the true beauty of "Puzzle Fridays" is how crowds of kids visiting the HHC each day are gone. Instead, these crowds are replaced by the close-knit family of those that find the HHC to be a second home, surrounding one or two tables, working to solve a puzzle while also finding peace in knowing that they are a piece within the larger picture of the community.
The first puzzle we started was found on the shared table in the break room, left here by a former manager with a penchant for possessing eclectic items. It was a murder-mystery puzzle with a 1980s storyline, Soviet villains, and a cheesy American spy who saves the day. I didn't believe that the kids would gravitate toward this puzzle because it was old, possessing a hint of attic musk, and America's rift with the now non-existent Soviet Union had seemingly thawed thanks to Rocky IV. Nevertheless, Fatima put the puzzle on a table, and I sat back and watched kids gravitate toward the space, some in search of conversation while others were led by their curiosity. The HHC community completed the puzzle over four weeks. The puzzle, which had started as an activity for the few, evolved into a time of family bonding, sharing, and true to form connections.
For many students, the puzzle is symbolic of finding peace within the pieces of life, with the bigger picture being worked out one section at a time, surrounded by an encouraging community that supports you regardless of your age, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, or any other barrier of division. Though most of the week focuses on the academic rigors that exist Monday-Thursday, I would venture to say that "Puzzle Friday" is just as critical to the center's development. It is our time to check up on one another, connect as a community, build as a family, and always leave the week on a high note, using that moment of that day to create the momentum needed for a successful next week. As a team, the HHC staff and students are proud to come together each day to create a safe community that meets the needs of those who call the HHC "home." Whether someone is looking to finish a puzzle or find an answer when life seems puzzling, there is always a spot in HHC for anyone looking to either be a piece or be at peace within our family unit.