Author: Tanvi Varma
When I reflect on the most meaningful experiences in my life, volunteer work is one that comes to mind. Over the past four years, I have interacted with many different groups, including the economically disadvantaged, elderly, youth and developmentally disabled. Each interaction has been a unique experience that has highlighted my strengths but also helped me become a more well-informed person.
One of the primary focuses of Saint Francis, my Catholic high school, centered around service; before graduating, students were required to accumulate a minimum of 50 volunteer service hours through working with different groups of individuals. During my first year, I worked at Green Pastures, an organization that worked with autistic children. I primarily worked with Elizabeth, a hyper eight-year-old girl who loved going outside. Every Sunday, her parents would take her on a special outing to which she always looked forward. I could not help smiling every time her face lit up with excitement. These were the moments when my heart would swell with emotion, seeing how something so simple could make a child so happy. But it was also difficult emotionally to watch the children’s pain and frustration on a daily basis and know that I was not able to comfort them much.
Taking care of Elizabeth was a unique and touching experience. I felt like a motherly figure because of my constant caring for her. It required a significant amount of patience and compassion, two qualities that I still have.
My sophomore year, I worked with the Tutoring Network, an organization focusing on youth development. After school Mondays and Tuesdays, I would go to the local elementary school and tutor fifth graders in math. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience because I have a love for teaching younger students. I am excellent at creating different methods of teaching a concept, depending on the individual’s learning style. Through the process of preparing methods of teaching, I learned to be more organized. In addition, I was able to use the teaching methods on myself whenever I needed to learn a concept.
Overall, tutoring required a significant amount of patience, especially in situations when the concept needed to be explained multiple times. However, the positive energy and eagerness of students was uplifting and motivating, making the experience worth it. Similarly, my thorough enjoyment in helping students led me to seriously consider pursuing psychology as a major.
During my junior year, I worked at Lytton Gardens, a senior residential facility. When I first arrived at the center, I was in awe of how beautiful it was. I would work Sundays, helping out during coffee hour. It was sweet to watch the elderly individuals excitedly congregate in groups and sit at tables. As I served them coffee, I would converse with the friendly ladies and was touched by how kind they were. They would always compliment me on my various accessories and, surprisingly, would always remember my name. It definitely made me feel special.
As I heard the stories of some of the ladies, I was deeply saddened. Marilyn, an elderly woman, had been living in the senior center for three years, and she told me that her son, who lived three blocks away, seldom visited. In the past three years, she had only seen her son and his family twice. I felt a combination of sadness and anger because I did not agree with what he was doing, especially since he lived so close. Regardless, I enjoyed working at Lytton Gardens and formed relationships with some of the members. After finishing the required hours of service, I continued to volunteer because I enjoyed the company of the elderly individuals and also the overall service experience.
My senior year, I went on an immersion trip, which required us to go outside comfort zone and immerse ourselves in the harsh realities of less fortunate communities. I spent five days in San Antonio working with economically disadvantaged individuals. I helped out at the Catholic Resource Center, a place stocked with basic necessities for the homeless. Most of the families who came in were surprisingly optimistic and hopeful. I watched as Jane, a 10-year old girl, gave up a doll she wanted so that her younger brother, Max, could get a Thomas the Train book. I was amazed by the compassion Jane displayed at such a young age. Her actions inspired me to evaluate my own attitude. Looking back, I am glad I went on this immersion trip because I had an unforgettable experience. I realize that, before I started volunteering, I led a very sheltered life, unexposed to those in need. Consequently, I am grateful that through volunteering, I gain more exposure with each interaction.
Volunteering has changed my general outlook on life. I am gradually realizing that there is more to life than material and academic success. In addition, I have improved my conversational skills and become a more confident and patient person, changes that are visible in both my personal and academic life.
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