This March, I volunteered at the annual Project Cicero book drive at the Hotel Pennsylvania. I helped unpack and sort donated books for teachers to take for use in under-resourced New York public schools. As I was unpacking these books, teachers came in to take books for their own classrooms. It was a heartening experience to see how many people were there to volunteer and how ready they were to help. As someone who has always loved to read, I loved seeing teachers take books that I used to read continuously, since I knew another kid might soon enjoy those books as much as I did. Although the room was overwhelming at first because of the crowd and noise, I soon got used to how hectic it was, and I enjoyed being a part of the experience. I remember from my time at a public school how hard it can be for teachers to have access to the books they need, and Project Cicero really helps to bring new books to those classrooms. I had a really positive experience with Project Cicero, and I definitely think that I will volunteer next year.
The organization my group researched for our YPI project, the NYIC, focuses on helping immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, learn what rights they are entitled to and helps them in their search for legal status. The NYIC is a very large organization with over 100 member organizations, so while making the presentation I found it difficult to condense what they do into an effective ten minute presentation. Despite this challenge, I still found learning more about NYIC very rewarding. It made me much more empathetic towards undocumented immigrants because I learned more about how little information is available to them when coming to America. There are programs, such as emergency medicaid and pre-k for all, that undocumented immigrants are entitled to. However, they are not always aware these programs exist. Although I have always recognized the hardships illegal immigrants face, now that I have completed the YPI project, I am more aware of how hard it is to come to America without having any connections in the country or sometimes even speaking the language.
Since January, I have been volunteering every Wednesday at an organization called Reading Partners where I have been helping a girl who is behind reading level in her grade to develop her reading skills. I read with her, practice comprehension skills like sequence of events, and do practice worksheets with her. At first, Reading Partners was not what I thought it would be. The girl I was tutoring was really not interested in reading, and she would sometimes refuse to talk to me. I began to feel like I wasn’t making a difference at all, and I was frustrated about her lack of interest. But when I talked to Mariana, the supervisor of the Reading Partners site, she told me about possible struggles the girl was having at her home. When Mariana spoke about this to me, I realized that when you volunteer, you might not always see an immediate positive outcome. There are some circumstances that are beyond your control. It’s easy to get discouraged about this, but it was important for me to remember that volunteering isn’t about making myself feel better about what a good person I am. It’s about genuinely helping someone else, not for your self-interest but because you want to help make someone’s life better.
I’m now tutoring a different girl at Reading Partners, who’s a little younger and isn’t always interested in reading or doing activities. But instead of getting discouraged, I keep working with her, and I think that she might get up to grade reading level. I find tutoring her really rewarding, and I love moments like when she figures out how to read a word she was having trouble with before. Through my time at Reading Partners, I’ve learned that you might not always see progress right away when volunteering but that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It takes time to see progress.