Site: Lasallian Educational Opportunitites (LEO) Center – Oakland, CA
College: Christian Brothers University
What do you do?
The LEO Center provides after-school educational programs to middle and high school students, and English language and computer programs for adults. Two mornings a week, I help with the adult ESL classes. During the middle school program (CASTLE), I tutor children in most subject areas, but mainly math and science. I also fill in at the front desk for Ms. Mildred (our secretary) while she is away. During the high school program (STARS), I tutor in math, chemistry, and biology, and provide service opportunities through the Lasallian Youth Group. I also take care of computer attendance records for both middle and high school programs.
Why did you choose to become a Lasallian Volunteer? Have your hopes about the Program been realized?
A year ago I wrote about my motives for becoming a Lasallian Volunteer on my application:
“I want to have a meaningful, eye-opening experience that will prepare me for future service. I want to broaden my horizons, and I believe this will happen through work with different classes of people as well as living in community. Most importantly, I want to serve others in an unselfish way and give back to the world that has blessed me with so much…I know that with an open mind and the desire to learn about others and myself, I will undoubtedly grow emotionally and spiritually while channeling my energy towards service.”
Now that I’ve spent a year actually living the life of a volunteer, I can say that my hopes have been much more than realized. I’ve undergone a more powerful experience and more personal growth than I could have possibly imagined before entering the program. I don’t think anyone, including myself, can truly understand what it means to be a Lasallian Volunteer unless they’ve actually been one. I began this year thinking I would accomplish certain things and grow in certain ways, and maybe I did achieve some of what I thought I would, but the most significant changes in myself were unintended when I began my journey. I’ve learned from people that I never would have suspected and have become more aware of the impact that every single person has on others. I have undoubtedly grown emotionally and spiritually, and I wouldn’t give this experience up for the world! I am thrilled to be staying for a second year and I am excited to see what I can do for others while experiencing even more growth in myself.
What is the most important “thing,” do you think, that your students/clients/guests need from you? What do you do to try to provide this?
I began this year wanting to connect with the kids I would work with at the LEO Center, but I was worried about my ability to discipline and to keep them under control without being “too nice”. What I’ve learned is that by far the most effective way to reach out to kids, or really anyone in life, is to show them that you care. My job is to tutor kids at the LEO Center. What has helped me more than anything is to take a quick couple of minutes to connect with the person I’m about to work with before any actual tutoring takes place. I simply ask how his/her day is going and then sit back and listen. Doing this tells the student that they are more important to me than the math or chemistry they may be struggling with. It’s such a simple and easy way of reaching out to them, and it always makes tutoring much easier because they are more willing to pay attention to you after you’ve listened to what’s on their minds. Though it’s sometimes hard to see, they develop a real respect for you because they know you care.
I think the most important “thing” my students need is a caring, listening ear. There have been several times when I would simply sit next to one particular student, listen to his stories, and then not need to help him at all with his homework. He used to need my help everyday, but now usually all I have to do is remind him that he already knows what he needs to do. He still enjoys being able to talk to me about his life, but it’s wonderful to see such growth in his self-confidence. This confidence was there from the beginning – I just tried to help him see it for himself.
If you could project ahead a few years and look back to now, how do you think your experiences with those you serve and with the Brothers will have changed you?
What I value most from this year are my connections with others – my connection with God, with my Lasallian community, the LEO Center community, the greater Lasallian community, and the greater Oakland community. I have experienced growth in each of these areas throughout the year, and all of these together have given me such a deep, rich overall experience that I cherish. I knew from the beginning that the LEO Center was a great fit for me, and I have really enjoyed what I do here. I love learning about the completely different culture in the Bay Area, I love connecting with the kids, and I love being able to work with different age groups everyday. I am fortunate to be able to see the impact I have on others through the way we share our stories and lives, but, as it usually goes, I know that my community members, coworkers, and students have had even more of an impact on me than I have had on them.
This year I have seen the three aspects of the Lasallian mission – faith, community, and service, personified in ways I never expected at the beginning of the year. I’ve seen how these aspects work with and through each other for an overall experience that is much greater than the sum of the parts. I am thankful that I can be a true part of the Lasallian mission and thankful that my experiences and knowledge from volunteering will remain with me forever. Staying connected to the Christian Brothers is now completely inevitable – I’m hooked! I cannot even express how lucky I am and how thankful I feel to be surrounded by unbelievable people who devote their lives to the mission of St. John Baptist de La Salle – a mission so incredible to me even though my understanding of it, though growing everyday, is still quite small. My experiences as a Lasallian Volunteer have changed the way I relate to others, changed the way I view myself, and changed the way I will live the rest of my life, and they are all for the better.
What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?
I would explain to them how enriching it is. It may seem strange to an outsider, but I get to live with people who have devoted their entire lives to what I’m doing for a mere two years. Living with them is a constant reminder of why I’m here. Their presence alone is inspirational and something that has kept me much more focused than I would have been without them. I think this is what differentiates the Lasallian Volunteer program from other volunteer programs.
Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?
I would recommend the LV program wholeheartedly. In my opinion, the LV program is more personalized and intimate than other volunteer programs. It is an amazing and unique experience living with the Brothers, and it’s wonderful to get to know all the other volunteers at the three retreats during the year. You form life-long bonds and connections all over the country. I can’t even describe how much this year has meant to me – and it’s just one year! I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this program. It has truly shaped my faith and helped shape the person I want to be. I have no doubt it would do the same for someone else with similar ambitions.
Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?
Many of the sites at which LVs serve could not survive without volunteers, and they need the Lasallian Volunteer Program to recruit them. Being a Lasallian Volunteer is much different than being a daily volunteer at a place near your home. I think living in a new city is crucial to the experience as well as the retreats we attend throughout the year, which your contribution would help fund. The retreats provide us the opportunity to connect with each other and know that we are all linked by one common mission. Without the retreats, a lot of motivation and support would be lost.
A contribution to the LV Program is not just a single contribution. It directly affects volunteers like me and helps sustain us in our own journeys of service and personal growth. Indirectly it helps all the people at the sites we serve, which are many. It also indirectly impacts all those we will serve in the years to come due to the influence of our LV experience.