When people think of volunteering their free time, they think of punishment, why would we as teens want to give up our free time? Why would we sacrifice our personal time hanging out with friends and sleeping in, to volunteer all summer? As teens today, we have it pretty easy (I know I do), we typically get anything we want, have the ability to go and do most anything we wish and generally we take all of these privileges for granted. I learned this first hand this summer. You see, my mom is a volunteer at The Road Home homeless shelter in Salt Lake, so you can only imagine what I was thinking when she said she’d like me to sacrifice my time this summer to volunteer at the shelter with her several days a week; there goes my summer. That day, I never would have imagined how in the next few months my life would be forever changed.
My first day was a Tuesday, the first Tuesday after school had recessed for the summer. My mom woke me up bright and early to go to the shelter with her, I was going to be an “Assistant Pre-School Teacher” for the summer. The problem with this, well, I am an only child; yes I have a lot of cousins but I have never really enjoyed kids. The idea of being a “Pre-School Teacher” was a little unnerving and I was a little concerned that these kids might not like me. That Tuesday I walked into the shelter, exposed to things I have only ever heard my mom talk about, things I had never seen. At 10:30am I walked into the room and acquainted myself with the lead teacher, I began to see incredible artwork and bright paintings on the walls, such a happy room; I then began to feel at ease and anxiously awaited the child residents to arrive. That day I met so many adorable faces, children who have nothing, some without shoes on their feet but incredible smiles on their faces. Children so happy to be in class that day, children who spoke to you as though they had everything in the world right there in that room. I experienced love, a simple love. Many of these children only have their mom and dad, all worldly possessions have been stripped form them; the love I witnessed for their family was a love I’d never seen. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and need them but this love was different. This was a love of need, a love of survival, a love given in hopes or receiving. The emotions set in that very day when I knew, these children needed me. These inspiring children had lives that I only had nightmares about, these children struggled, and fought and were warriors; I was proud to lead them. I knew that day I would be a positive light for these children, as Art Buchwald said “The Greatest Things In Life Aren’t Things”, my mom wears a necklace that says this, I have seen it a million times; on this day, this first Tuesday, I understood.
It was several weeks into my volunteering that I realized I needed to do more, I could make a difference in the lives of these children as they had already had such an impact on mine. I knew there had to be something I could do, these children were sewn into my heart, they deserve the world and I wanted to provide for them something in their life they could look forward to, something maybe their parents couldn’t afford. As we left the shelter on Thursday afternoon, close to tears, I told my mom that I wanted to make a difference in the world, I wanted to leave a mark on the lives of others, to which my mom responded; “Start small Victoria, follow your heart”. I knew what to do, I would brighten their world just as they had brightened mine. I was going to do an art supply drive and supply this pre-school room with every art supply imaginable! I wanted to put color into their world!
The next Tuesday my mom and I created a video and put it on You tube, feel free to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-WaFXFiDGw&feature=share
I sent this video along with a supply list to everyone we know, neighbors, friends, family, businesses, I was going to succeed at this mission and shower these kids with gifts they’d never seen. Very soon after the emails went out the doorbell began to ring, and ring and ring, it wasn’t long until my extra room was full of donations. It was nearing the end of the summer and I was beginning to wrap up the drive and begin organizing all these awesome gifts when my mom was asked if I would be willing to donate some of these supplies to children in Canyon’s school district that were former residents of The Road Home, of course I accepted this task! It did require A LOT more work and my mom got nervous we wouldn’t have enough, but as my mom said “when you put the prayers out there, they are going to be answered!” For the next 3 weeks I collected backpacks and school supplies for children pre-school to seniors in high school, I made it my goal to prepare 100 backpacks and with answered prayers and unbelievable generosity of family and friends I was able to fill 135 backpacks. The coolest part of this, I knew in my heart that these 135 kids that had these backpacks could go to school and never feel different from their peers! That was an awesome feeling.
I cherished every minute with my pre-school class this summer, I could go on and on, I have a story about each of them but that might take a long time to write (and read), but I will say this; those children are my heart, they deserve the world, they are no different than me or anyone else they have just been placed in front of a hurdle they must overcome; they are angels among us and I am blessed that they let me into their life. Thursday, August 16th was my last day; I prepared a party for the class and presented them with every art supply they could dream of, new art tables and easels, new carpets and snacks for class. Each of these incredible children got a new backpack for pre-school and the best part they all sang me a song, hugged me and said we will see you soon. As if the day was not emotional enough, this same night I personally delivered nearly 100 backpacks to each of the individual students I had prepared them for. This joy of helping others with all of my heart was overwhelming, it simply cannot be put into words. People have told me, “Wow, Victoria what you are doing is so great” or “more people should be like you it is so inspiring”, and while I appreciate that, what I have done is what we should all do but many choose not to, it is easier to close your eyes and choose not to see. I choose to see, I love what I saw, yes some days were hard, heartbreaking or at times scary but I do not know who I would be if it had not been for this summer. This experience, these children, the generosity (extreme generosity) of others has changed my life forever. I am forever grateful for everything that I have, you never know how quickly those things can be taken from you, how quickly things change or disappear. I pray for these children that I love so very much and I know they will grow up to do great things, to expand their minds and dream big!