As you have probably heard, Maryland suffered from some serious exposure to the worst of winter. It seemed like everything was put on hold and everyone was given a random, unnecessary vacation. The snow sadly removed much of the work and play I normally experience.
A big disappointment throughout that time period was missing my weekly volunteering at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center in Reservoir Hill, a neighborhood of Baltimore city. Not only is St. Francis where I volunteer but it also serves as a host site for a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, Corrine, who is in my region.
Since November I have been assisting with the organization’s after school program, the Power Project. As Michael mentioned in his most recent post, Volunteer Maryland state members are required to dedicate 10% of their year to direct service. In the past I have been exposed to diverse volunteer experiences- weekly work in a soup kitchen, assisting with an ESL class- but I really wanted to take part in something different during my second service year. I was looking for a fresh perspective on community change and engagement. Even though it’s been a few months, I can say that being part of the Power Project has been a very fulfilling experience, one where I leave feeling like I’m making a difference, even if it’s just a small one.
The Power Project is fairly new; it was created last spring and will soon be hitting its one year anniversary. The program utlizes education, mentoring, and the arts to empower youth to be strong individuals. For such a young program it’s amazing to see how successful it is. From Monday through Thursday, youth ages 5 through 18–better known as the Power Prodigies– take part in a fun, challenging, and motivating experience. The beginning of the afternoon always involves a warm-up and focus on homework. Volunteers assist the kids when they have questions as well as provide them with encouragement. Following these daily tasks, the kids experience a thought-provoking activity before they leave for the day. This may be a lesson on a social or educational issue, a self-reflective art project, work on their reading skills, a field trip, or another equally engaging activity.
It’s funny looking back on the first day I started. While I was mostly excited, I was definitely nervous. Would I be able to connect with and help these kids as they would like and deserve? That question ran through my head right before I walked in. I remember experiencing a whirlwind of smiles, a natural resistance to homework, and interesting engagement of the topics at hand. I could tell it would take time to connect with some of the kids and with others it would be more immediate. I thought, “I really like this place.” 🙂
Whether you are a volunteer or just a visitor, it’s easy to see the positive effects the staff and volunteers are making in these young kids’ lives. Outside of the academic improvements, the positive relationships built from this experience are very special. The Power Project is a close-knit family. Even as a volunteer I feel that special bond. Ever since the first day it was clear that these connections are priceless (insert corny music now…). But, in all seriousness, volunteering every Tuesday is a highlight of my week. When one of the girls runs up to me screaming, “MISS LAURA!” and attacks me with a hug, it truly is a great feeling. I can’t properly describe to you in words how much it makes my day, especially during the most stressful of times in life. The simple innocence of a friendly and loving child is incredible.
This experience often provides me with a constant reflection of the influence of adults throughout my own childhood. I challenge you to look back at those that took an interest in guiding you through the weird times known as being as a young person. Who was the person that listened to you? Encouraged you? Inspired you?