My senior year of high school I joined a program called AmeriCorps. I didn’t know what to expect from it but I knew I wanted to do it because I’d get to be let out of school early to do the necessary volunteer work (the monthly stipend and college scholarship were also perks) I loved the program from the very beginning and what it exposed me to. Weekends were spent organizing food and clothing drives and serving food at the local soup kitchen. I got involved with the American Red Cross and became an instructor in CPR and first aid and started teaching classes for them to ad to my volunteer hours. I got certified in disaster-preparedness and education and helped communities prepare for and recover from the effects of natural disasters. But the most moving part of what I did was the portion that engulfed a few hours of every week day.
I spent my days tutoring fetal alcohol syndrome children at a local elementary school. The kids I worked with were between the ages of four and six. This is the age that most schools start teaching reading and writing to their students, and this school was no different. But the children were. The days I worked with my students were the most frustrating and most rewarding days of my life. These kids made my day, every day. No matter what else was going on in my life, it was all forgotten when I walked through the doors and into the classroom. These kids mattered, some not to their parents, but they mattered to me.
There were days where I would become so frustrated because I just couldn’t understand why one minute they could say the first five letters of the alphabet but then literally a minute later, they had totally forgotten them. We worked on the same things every day, five days a week, for an entire school year yet some days, even towards the end, it was like they had never seen the material before. It taught me never to take my brain for granted, to never take my education for granted, to never take the decisions my parents made for granted.
These kids, through no fault of their own, were born with an incredible disadvantage, and this disadvantage was often visible both physically and mentally/emotionally. The day that Clay was able to recite all the ABC’s without mixing them up, forgetting them, or inventing other letters I cried. The successes that I had while working with these kids were few and far in between but each little bit of success, no matter how petty, was absolutely worth all the frustration.
Its been too long since I saw the kids I used to work with. I used to go back and visit them whenever I’d go home to visit my parents but there are often a lot of issues with abuse and neglect in the homes of children suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome and many of the kids I worked with were moved from home to home, district to district. I think about them all the time though and whenever I get frustrated with college I think about how lucky I am to be here, able to find typos in sentences and order words properly. The little things that I overlook every day, especially as an English major. I can sit down and write a paper on a book that I just read. That isn’t anything special to me but I have to remember how special the ability to learn to read and write really is.