I recently posted a blog about making a difference and “doing something with your dash,” and this past Saturday I was given the opportunity to make a difference and a put a few memories into the bank of my dash.
“Having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself.”
Selflessness is an attribute found in those with a special place in their hearts for creating a better world and giving to those who have nothing to give you in return. Children are often the most necessary recipients, and while they may not have anything physical to give in return, the love they pour out from your time and your attention and the lessons they will teach you is a timeless and irreplaceable part of life.
A few weeks before this semester started, I decided at the last minute to add an extra class to my already packed schedule to simply finish my degree faster. The class was titled as an externship and at the time I was clueless as to what it was going to entail or what it was even about as the course description was extremely vague. What I didn’t know was that this class was going to open my eyes to an entire world I barely knew existed, and teach me more than I could ever learn from inside the four walls of a classroom. My teacher informed my class of a mere three students that instead of meeting weekly we would meet once a month, maybe less, and in turn would be required to volunteer at least two hours a week tutoring children at this building called The Sanctuary. I love children, but if I’m being honest my initial thought was…
“How am I ever going to have time for this?”
I work overnights, I have class during the day, I obviously want my own free time and I need time to sleep…so where was I going to find at least two hours a week that I didn’t really have? But…I didn’t have a choice. If I wanted to get my degree faster and get a good grade in my class I was going to have to make it work.
The Sanctuary is a converted church located in a run down, poverty-stricken area, but is home to a program originally started by the alderman and within his boundaries he has created what he calls “The North Campus.” The program aims to provide not only a safe place for the children within these select number of miles, but also a place where we hope to plant the seed for a better and brighter future that allows them to chase their dreams. I have been working with these children twice a week for 2-3 hours each day since the first week of October, and in a matter of just a month these resilient little individuals have taught me things I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Most of these children come from broken homes where more often than not parents may be in jail or not even in the picture. They come from schools where teachers more times than not do not care about their education as much as they do a paycheck. Reading levels are far below where they should be, and math scores typically follow suit. Their grades as a whole are far below average, and their drive to fight for their own future is easily diminished by the lack of resources and surrounding environments they are so unfortunately a part of.
But let me be the first to tell you…these children are brilliant and they are creative and they have the biggest of hearts. They deserve to be given the chance to succeed, and despite their unfortunate circumstances they come in every day with a smile on their face just happy to be alive and be given a place where they can get help not only with homework, but also a place where people actually care about them and care about their success. These beautiful little humans thrive on the love and stability they find within the walls of The Sanctuary, and while I have only been volunteering there for the past month I see how important consistency is in their world. I see how important it is to do more than help them with their math problems by creating relationships that allow them to know that I am their for more than just tutoring.
As if tutoring two hours a week was not enough for our teacher, there was a much larger project involved. My university holds an annual “Make A Difference Day” where students sign-up to volunteer at many different locations in attempt to make a difference in our surrounding communities. Earlier this month we also inaugurated a new president and to our surprise The Sanctuary was not only going to be a funded site by the university, but the president would be taking part in Make A Difference Day at The Sanctuary. While this may not seem like a big deal to most, having the president of our university participating at our site sheds a light on what our college of public health and social justice is attempting to do at the North Campus which can open doors and create opportunities for us to hopefully do more and expand the program. That being said, this meant that we had to plan something big and something completely awesome for Make A Difference Day, and it was up to the three people and the program coordinator at The Sanctuary to make it happen. With limited resources and a short time to make it happen, my partners in crime and I set out to create an event for both the community and our kids. Since Halloween was coming up, what better way to celebrate than a Fall Harvest Festival complete with plenty of sugar and a bouncy house. So this past Saturday with no idea of how many kids and families to plan for, we worked our assess off to pull everything together and crossed our fingers. To our surprise we had at least 50 families come through to take part in pumpkin painting, a caramel apple bar, face painting, mask making, cookie decorating, and plenty of chili! However, my two favorite parts of the entire day where our mural station and our tile station. On one of the walls in the main stairwell I created a mural currently in it’s finishing stages, and that day the children got to put their hand-prints on the wall as part of the mural. They also had the opportunity to color a white kitchen tile that will be sealed and used to create a counter top in The Sanctuary’s kitchen that is in the process of being converted into a cafe for the kids. These two stations seemed to be the kids favorite because it meant they were going to be a part of this building for years and years to come. It gave them an opportunity to leave their mark in a place that for the time being is their safe place to run. Seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing the laughs coming from their mouths this past Saturday made my heart smile and for the rest of the day I was filled with a joy I just can’t describe.
This semester is slowly coming to an end, which means so will this class, but I plan to continue volunteering for as long as they allow because as much as I might be doing for these children…they are doing so much more for me. And if I can keep creating a positive environment for them full of love and smiles and laughs, I’ll do it because they deserve it. I have been given the opportunity to make a small difference that I can only hope will lead to brighter futures for these amazing children, and I hope that these brighter futures will lead to them striving to make the same difference in others lives that I hope I am making in theirs. Their resilience despite their circumstances continues to amaze me each and every day I spend with them, and while leaving their hand on a wall or their tile on a counter is a visible mark they are leaving, they will be leaving a mark on my heart that will be there forever.