“Where am I?” I asked as I entered the dimly lit cafeteria.
“You’re at the Booker T. Washington Community Center!” came an unexpected reply from a high-pitched voice of a young girl that barely reached the height of my waist. I was on a church mission trip to Macon, Georgia. Based on my previous mission trip, I had expected to be doing hard, physical labor on a decrepit house. Instead, I found myself responsible for a rambunctious group of second and third graders.
I am not one who usually likes working with children, so I was dreading this assignment. I was out of my comfort zone when I saw that my mission group was working in a more run-down part of the town. Driving on potholed roads, we passed numerous dilapidated stores and homes before reaching the disorderly community center. Upon arrival, I learned that I would be assisting the kids with drama, music, recreation, and crafts. Unfortunately, the drama teacher never showed, so I took the liberty of reading a story to my group of children. I thought, “Maybe this will calm them down,” but I was absolutely wrong. My story was hardly audible due to the kids nonstop talking and playing amongst themselves at my feet. My mission group had no control of these children. After enduring several more long hours, I had completed day one of my work. I had no desire to come back.
The second day, I returned to Booker T. Washington Community Center in a lousy mood. As we filed into the stuffy cafeteria to greet the kids, three volunteers and I were bombarded by several sets of arms that constricted around our legs in a tight hug. I was caught off guard and confused by this affection but gave them a light squeeze and pat on the back in return. We turned on a movie to entertain the children. Suddenly, I felt small hands weaving through my hair making intricate designs and braids. After coloring pictures and playing several rounds of “Duck, Duck, Goose”, my day had come to an end.
I was not dreading the third and fourth days but was looking forward to seeing the children’s eager faces. I realized the children were very appreciative of us coming because they do not have the money to afford art supplies or recreation games to play with. We were a special treat for them, in which they received much joy. Nonetheless, the love and happiness I felt in return was greater. On the fourth and final day, I found it difficult and heart-wrenching to say goodbye to my second and third graders. Their love and innocence allowed them to easily accept me into their lives, and I had grown attached to them in such a short time.
From this experience, I learned that it is important to have patience with young kids. They can be frustrating at times but lovable as well. Also, I learned that community service does not have to be physically draining, just something to help one person as an act of kindness. Volunteering causes a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that cannot be bought. Brightening someone’s day is priceless.
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