From Obligation to Passion

1 Nov

I enjoyed volunteering growing up, I guess. My parents instilled a healthy respect for philanthropy in my sisters and me from a young age. It was something you just did, like brushing your teeth or finishing your homework. But it was a chore, an obligation that needed to be fulfilled before you could go have fun.

Things changed when I turned 16. I began to feel the need to give back. I had too many blessings in my own life and I felt the desire to “pay it forward.” I began to volunteer at a women’s shelter in my home town and it changed my life. It was a much needed reality check. Like a bucket of ice water, this experience woke me up and opened my eyes. It made me want to do more.

The summer before my senior year I traveled to the Dominican Republic. Our goal was to teach children English and to build a playground at the school where we were working. I felt like I gained so much from that experience. It opened my eyes even more and helped me start to think about volunteering on a global scale. It made me realize that there is always something more that you can do to help.

By the time I graduated high school, volunteering had become a huge part of my life. The summer before I came to college was my busiest yet, I was volunteering almost 40 hours a week on top of having a full time job. I loved every minute of it. Then I came to college. Classes began and I joined a few clubs, made some friends, and got involved. I soon realized, however, that something was missing. I MISSED volunteering. I missed how it felt to know I was helping someone else, even in a small way. That’s when I applied to become an Americorps Fellow. I was thrilled when I got accepted, but also slightly wary because I knew the program’s primary goal was working with at-risk youth. I worried that I would have a hard time working with kids, since the primary focus of volunteering had been with women and young adults in the past. So I was a little concerned.

That concern is all gone today. President’s Prep has started up at Washington High School and today we had a few students come in for help. Talking with them and helping them with their work was great. I actually felt like I was making a difference. I was helping one boy complete an English paper and he told me that he was “dumb.” I asked him why he thought that, and he told me that everyone said he was dumb – his mom, her boyfriend, his 5 siblings, his friends, etc. I just felt awful. How is this boy supposed to want to go to school and get an education if everyone was telling him that he would fail? I asked him what his favorite class was. He hesitated and didn’t want to tell me, but I kept pushing. “Math,” he said. “If I could do anything I’d want to teach kids like me math and make them feel smart. I only ever feel smart in math class.” It made me so sad and so proud all at once. I talked to him for a little while more about his goals and the future and then made him promise to come back and see me for more help after school the next week. I hope I can make a difference for him. Maybe one day he will be teaching math and he will KNOW that he is not dumb. For me, that’s the type of difference I hope I can make in this program.

-Alex

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One Response to “From Obligation to Passion”

  1. Megs November 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Alex, thank you for sharing. I started to choke up reading this. It is hard to believe that some children grow up without the encouragement of parents. My parents have always been my biggest fans and I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like as a child to not have anyone believe in you. Alex, you can be that person for this young man–believe in him and his talent. Inspire him to dream big and reach his full potenital.

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