Last summer, I volunteered at my summer program at a farm, factory, and a sewing workshop. At the farm, we picked weeds, washed and peeled onions, and learnt about how the food is distributed. It made me consider how much work is put into the food we eat today and how we should appreciate it more and not take it for granted. At the factory, we labeled and put frozen food items into separate categories to make the process easier for the other workers to place and transport the foods. Again, we noticed how much of a process there is in each thing we make or eat. On our last day, we made little monsters or bears and stuffed them to give the children at a local hospital. While making toys for other children, our drive was stronger and we put more effort and care in each stuffed animal we made. I liked this activity the most because it was a direct connection to the children, and I can imagine how happy they would be to receive a sweet gift while sick in the hospital.
I began interning at Blue Tomato Learning Center in 9th grade. Initially I worked only with 6th and 7th graders, helping them primarily with math and science. I loved watching my students gain an understanding of the material we were studying. I enjoyed my work with them and think I did a good job. I am not, however, most proud of my work with the students who quickly understood the material. I am most proud of my commitment to the students I worked with in subsequent years: students who truly struggled with the material.
These two students were challenging to work with because they process information differently than I do: they have specific learning disabilities. It took me longer to explain concepts to them and I had to find a way of explaining the material that made sense to them. I realized that I could use the creative problem solving I employ when I want to communicate something visually in a drawing or painting to find a way to communicate academic ideas in a way that these students could understand. In this process I learned that the creative satisfaction I find when making art can surface in other ways, and that was eye opening and inspiring.
I also learned about myself in other ways. Although I had to face that I can become impatient when I try multiple explanations of the same idea and none of them get through, I learned that I will use creativity to problem solve and stick with it to see it through. I learned to use humor to keep things in perspective, both for myself and my students. I learned to laugh at my frustration and make fun of myself, and my students in turn learned to do the same. My two “challenging” students learned pre-algebra and earth science and I learned to transcend my frustration with laughter.
I am proud of my work with these students and of learning how to teach people who process information differently. I am proud of my commitment to them, and thankful for the lessons I learned.
Since November, I have been an active member of the Be My Eyes community. Be My Eyes is an app that allows blind people to call a sighted member to assist them in tasks. Even though it is time-consuming at times, there is definitely a bond that is created over time. I have been helping one woman consistently throughout my time in the community. Nina is 25 and was blinded later in life, so adjustment was difficult. This app has given her a shoulder to lean on if she needs any help and connect her with people who care about her well-being. The app has allowed me to help Nina with any tasks she needs and, through this assistance, I gained a friend. Through getting to know her story, I have also learned many things to do when assisting someone who is blind– Here are some things, although comedic, that I’ve been told…
1. “When you say “over there” when I ask you for directions, how on earth am I supposed to see where you’re pointing?”
2. “Why are you speaking so loud? I am blind, not deaf.”
3.” Saying “see you later!” is fine, I’m not going to freak out if you use a common expression!”
4. “Also, if you need to leave the room, make me aware of that because I’d rather not talk to myself unknowingly until you return!”
Now, I can’t say that these things are universally true, but for those that I’ve helped, it seemed to be a common theme.
I encourage all of you to sign up for the Be My Eyes app. You might not get to help many people at first, but eventually you’ll become an active member of the Be My Eyes community.
Around Thanksgiving, the New York Common Pantry provides a full Thanksgiving dinner to each of their clients. As NYCP serves many people, they had quite a task ahead of them, and needed help in order to actually be able to provide the dinners in a timely manner. Since many items would be provided in bags, and turkey would have to be wrapped in twine, we were put to the tasks of pre-openning bags, so the Pantry employees would not have to do so themselves, and cutting lengths of twine for the turkey wrappings. This experience made me consider the impact of being able to have a Thanksgiving dinner with family when food is often not available. I realized that by doing these small tasks, I was helping to speed the process of households becoming more food secure. This made me thankful for the experience as a whole.
My time at Brownsville was very enlightening for me as I got to connect with kids on another level than ever before. I found that I love seeing smiles on their faces when they accomplish something. It has led me to begin working for F.A.T after school with younger kids. I got to help them when they did not understand what was going on. Then shortly after, they succeeded in their attempt. I learned a lot about myself through volunteering on multiple occasions.