A Few Books Until a Smile
“Sopphhhhiaaaa!” Screams of joy and shouts of my name from 4 and 5 year olds greet me as I walk in classroom 24 at the Head Start daycare of Shawnee Mission, Kansas.
Every Wednesday, even if I am tired after a hard day of school, this wild welcome brightens my day. A few kids come over to give me a hug, and immediately grab my hand, pulling me in 10 different directions and asking me to come play with them.
But with every volunteer job, there is usually one person that makes the program extra special.
One week, one of the kids was sitting alone in the corner, pouting. He did not give me the usual warm welcome. I made my way through the chaos to plop down on the beanbag chair next to him.
Today was a rough day, his teacher told me, and he was having trouble getting along with the others. I saw the beginnings of a smile as he handed me a well-worn copy of Goodnight Moon. Next came Go Dog Go. Then another, and another, as he eagerly plucked books from the shelf.
Gradually, his pout disappeared and a bright smile replaced the frown. After nearly an hour, his day had turned around.
His mom came to pick him up and he greeted her enthusiastically with a joyful smile. It was just volunteering with one kid during one hour on one day, but I really felt the impact that I had made.
YVC is about thousands of these little moments across our community, and when you add them all up, you can see the difference volunteering makes for both the volunteers and for those we serve.
A Life-Changing Meal
YVC always makes sure the agency is ready for our arrival and has coordinators at each site, not just to oversee our work, but also to educate us about the agency and the people we are serving. When I volunteer on my own, there is nothing worse than showing up at an agency to find they forgot I was coming and have nothing for me to do, but quickly invent some cans that needed moving.
However, I have moved cans for a good purpose at the Village Presbyterian Food Pantry, and in the end they sort of moved me.
I was helping a woman with her monthly shopping trip to their mini grocery store. We chatted as she shopped. I learned about her daughter in college, her past life as a chef, and then what brought her to the Village Food Panty. She fell ill, ended up with a feeding tube, and had to quit her job due to her disability. She could no longer work as a chef and had trouble finding any other work.
Now, this former chef was walking down the aisles of a food pantry. It struck me how quickly her fortunes had changed.
While many of the customers of the food pantry were thrilled to have something, anything, to eat, my customer saw something more. She was having fun! The assorted vegetables excited her and the fresh bread was going to be something more than just sandwiches. She decided on fresh vegetable soup in crusty bread bowls with a cheesy layer on top.
Each aisle was a new opportunity. She grew teary eyed at the end, and I was touched by how a simple shopping trip to a food pantry gave her so much more than just food.
Dodgeball Breaks Barriers
Another volunteering experience at YVC, Camp Empowerment, put me into a new situation. Most of my work has been with young kids or seniors. But at this summer camp for kids from the neighborhood, I found myself “volunteering” to help people my own age.
It was unexpectedly awkward at first. It wasn’t like I could sit down with them and read Goodnight Moon or ask about their kids. I’m not the type that just starts randomly talking to other teenagers, especially when I don’t know them. However, we quickly found commonalities that got us going.
Sports broke the ice, and a few intense games of dodgeball and soccer created bonds between us and left us chatting, laughing, and having a good time. One girl loved the same music as I did, and another group of us found out that we all loved playing telephone pictionary, a YVC favorite. For the next three days, I returned and spent time with the kids, finding many friends both within the volunteering group and at the camp.
Through YVC, I have seen that people need others to give a helping hand and that we all have more in common than we think. And I can attest that hour by hour, job by job, the seemingly little things that each YVC volunteer does add up to make a very big difference for many, many people. YVC helped me to realize that volunteering is not about trying to save the world. Instead, it’s about lots of little things combined that make a big difference.
Sophia Mauro is a 16-year-old volunteer with YVC of Greater Kansas City. Do you have a story to tell of your experience with YVC? Email Lacey at firstname.lastname@example.org.