Service Site: De La Salle Blessed Sacrament in Memphis, TN
University: University of California, Berkeley
What do you do? As a volunteer, I put on more hats than I care to count, but my main duties consist of: taking care of the library for the 3rd-8th grades, teaching computer classes to 3rd and 4th grades, music classes to all grades, after school care, and technology support for anyone who needs it. This past year (and soon to be two years) has convinced me every day of my life that I could not be happier anywhere else in the world right now.
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?
I think about this a lot, especially when I realize how soon my life will change again. Every day, I have the chance to spend my whole day with people who have experienced so much of life on two sides of a coin.
On the one hand, I have my kids and the faculty and staff with whom I work. Some of them have had extraordinarily difficult lives, and many of my students are too young to even understand the gravity of the hardship that has come upon them. Yet, I see them persevere, going to school every day and managing to gain an education, to love their friends and their teachers, to have a smile on their faces, and then go home to their difficult lives and do it all over again the next day.
On the other hand, I have the Brothers, many of whom have lived in many different countries and have had a variety of leadership positions in education. The wisdom and power, as well as the humor, joy and selflessness of a group of men whose lives have been dedicated to service… it’s just the most energizing presence.
I have both of these groups in my life, constantly, every single day. I am so humbled, so blessed, and I can’t help but continue to grow and work as hard as I can to offer my best self to people in whom I believe. These people are creating the core of my belief system, and I am truly proud to call myself a Lasallian because of the work I get to do with and for this community of mine.
Give an example of a time when you knew you were making a difference.
One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve become a teacher is this: in order to be effective and respected as a human being (and this is especially apparent as a teacher), one must stick to their word. No matter what it is, if you are inconsistent, children will find that hole in your character and test it to no end. So as I am learning how to use discipline effectively, I have had moments where I realize that my word and the action that I pair with it is not merely a group of words and movements I string together – but in a classroom, the words create a structure – structure that my kids need in order to stay safe.
This year, I auditioned a handful of kids to sing solos at the Christmas Program. While they were nervous to audition in front of me, they were fearful to sing in front of their classmates. One day, I had the 5th grade girls who had gained solos perform for their class as they all practiced the accompaniment parts. One of them hit a sour note, and many of the kids burst into laughter. I immediately silenced them and ended class sternly, telling them how disappointed I was in them and how they needed to think twice about laughing at someone when they might not have been brave enough to do what the girls had done. One of the soloists had burst into tears at the moment they burst into laughter, and as soon as I dismissed the class in silence, she came up to me and hugged me tightly.
For me, it’s about more than music – which is strange to say, since music is such a huge metaphor and blood for the body of life I live. To teach them about music is one thing, but in the situation of a soloist and the audience, I learned that my job was more than just theory and exposure to singing. In being a soloist, you learn to stand up and use your voice, no matter its condition. And in being an audience, you learn how to respect and to listen to others – even when you don’t agree with or like what they say.
To be a part of those moments… is simply the most inspiring part of my life.
Share a story about how you saw the face of God in your students.
I find myself getting more focused on how I can be God’s face to my kids, but sometimes, God reminds me clearly that I am experiencing the face of God in my kids. When I’m having a hard day, there are a couple of kids who see it and think outside of themselves. The best moments are seeing the kids showing the face of God to each other.
There is one kid in particular who is dealing with ADHD and has had a constant struggle with concentrating in school and with behavior issues. He also has a huge, shining compassionate heart. I have seen the same boy—who has had yelling matches with teachers—take the time to greet visitors to our school and bring other students to say hi to them. I’ve seen him give credit to other students’ work and ideas, and own up so honorably to his mistakes, that it is unmistakably God’s face shining through his. Once, I praised him highly and told him what an incredible job at welcoming visitors to our school. Instead of taking credit for his actions, he told me that he was only following the courage of another student and told me that she deserved that praise instead. His humility and the effort he puts in to doing his best in school really gives me hope that the kids I work with are growing in to compassionate, selfless people, despite all of the odds stacked against them.
Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?
When I came out of college, I was looking for a place that would bring me closer to the world of service while giving me a support system based in faith and in passion for changing the world. I know everyone has to choose the path that best suits them, but Lasallian Volunteers could really be the best path for more and more people. For all the things that I could be doing, there is no other place I’d rather be and no other organization I’d rather be a part of. I am incredibly blessed to have met the people that I know now, from the brothers to the students to the people I work with, to the volunteers with whom I am proud to share my experiences. Making connections and being inspired by those who have given their lives for service are truly an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.