When I first set foot in the AWP Emergency Shelter in mid-June this past summer, I did not know what to expect. What would I be doing there? Would the clients like me? Would I enjoy this opportunity? And as I have been a volunteer there for almost five months now, I realize, with such clarity, that I made a life-changing decision, not only for myself, but also for the residents of the shelter. Not only have I loved every minute of the two-hour-per-week period that I get to spend with these amazing, exuberant, compassionate people, I have also learned to be a positive role model in their lives.
It fills my heart with joy every single Tuesday night when I walk in the door and am greeted with a mob, as it seems, of happy, energetic children. I love being able to read to them, help them with homework, or simply just talk to them. As much as they affect my life in a positive way, I long to influence their lives as well. I want to be there for them; as an outlet when they are mad, or sad, or confused. Being able to hang out with them has also caused me to reminisce about my earlier years as well, which are times that I treasure dearly.
Although I am in place simply to play with these wonderful clients, I feel as if my time spent in the shelter goes beyond that. I think of the time that I spend with them as a time to educate, to sympathize, and even to learn. As much as I have taught these kids how to communicate effectively and maintain positive relationships, I have also learned how to be patient and kind with children who are younger than me. Not that I have not already learned this through my relationship with my 14-year-old sister, but these kids are different. They have gone through so much in their relatively short lives, and have been so resilient, that it is imperative and critical to express more patience, kindness, and love to them.
Looking back to that one summer evening when I first acclimated myself with the shelter, I realize now that I had no idea how influential and up-lifting this experience would be for me. It has not only allowed me to make a positive change in other people’s lives, but has opened my eyes to something that I love to do, and that is to give back and to care for others. I sincerely hope that this opportunity will produce a drive and desire in me to continue to give back and help others, and I hope that this article will encourage others to do the same.
Alex King, A Woman’s Place Teen Volunteer