This year, I assumed co-leadership of a service club called CHAI, or Children’s Hardship Awareness Initiative. As part of the club’s mission, members who wish to do so volunteer almost every weekend at either Sunday Circle, a program aimed to help special-needs children learn to interact with the world around them through gentle guidance from teenage volunteers, or the Association to Benefit Children’s Saturday Open Door Program, during which volunteers play with children from the East Harlem community while their parents take ESL, parenting, and fitness classes. Taking a leadership role was frightening initially, but over time I have come to appreciate my new ability to help Friends students engage more actively with service in their communities.
Sunday Circle has been a learning experience for me. I didn’t know what to expect during my first visit, but the warmth and openness from the children with whom I was working encouraged me to participate actively in the program. On one particular day, a friend and I taught a mostly non-verbal little boy named Abe with a love for music a song and game that I learned at summer camp. Seeing Abe, who sometimes struggles to get out of his own head, learn and love the song was so heartening to us; we could really see the impact we were making on these kids’ lives. Some weeks are harder than others, but earning the children’s trust and being able to give them a safe space for positive interaction with their peers has been such an amazing experience.