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My Summer with Denise This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


The purple dinosaur is staring at me. No, he's not Barney, but he bears such a resemblance he might as well be his crazy, obese cousin. His shaggy hair sways as he awkwardly shakes his head. Honestly, I find him creepier than Chuckie, the doll that comes to life in horror movie after horror movie. But the 6-year-old next to me isn't scared at all. There are few things first-graders aren't afraid of, and Denise has a mesmerized glow about her and a smile as wide as the pizza slice on her plate.

“Are they real?” she asks quietly, not daring to take her eyes off the show.

It is the sweetest, most tender moment. I can't tell her the truth, that these are actually robotic puppets that have been playing at this gig (i.e. Chuck E. Cheese) since the early '90s.

No, I must preserve the illusion that is childhood. Being with my “little buddy,” Denise, for the summer, has shoved my head into the bubble of childhood again too. When I leave her today, that bubble will pop and I will re-enter my real world of college essays and applications again. Hopefully Denise's bubble won't pop for at least a few more years.

“They're magic puppets come to life,” I explain to her. “And when they see kids like you, they have to dance and sing.”

“That's nice of them,” she replies. She totally believes me.

I could have spent my summer flipping hamburgers and contributing to America's obesity problem, or working at the mall selling tank tops to annoying preteen girls. Instead, I decided to volunteer. Not only do those I helped get something out of my time, but I get something as well: a smile and a cheerful feeling inside that doesn't fade for the rest of the day.

My favorite volunteer opportunities are with children. Denise was part of the Eager Readers program, a nonprofit organization that not only shows less fortunate children the benefits of reading but also gives them a playmate during summer while their parents work.

Denise and I really bonded and enjoyed go-carts, playing mini golf, and going to the zoo. Early in the program, I won a stuffed frog for her from a machine. “Mr. Froggie” went with us on every outing, and I soon learned that he was a symbol of security for her. However hectic her home life, Mr. Froggie and I seemed to calm her and give her a sense of safety that every child deserves.

Denise told me I was the highlight of her summer, and she was definitely my highlight. During all our outings, we wore smiles like crescent moons.

Wherever I go in life, I hope to be surrounded by kids. While my friends can't imagine spending their summers volunteering with kids, I can't imagine spending my summer any other way.

I encourage every teen out there to volunteer in whatever area they're interested. Trust me, I understand the stresses high school brings – there's homework, after-school activities, work, and events like homecoming and prom. But even if you volunteer every few months, it's worth it. Maybe, like me, you'll even find ideas for a career. Most important, you'll get that warm feeling, as if a soft stuffed animal like Mr. Froggie is settling inside your stomach. That's a nice perk, isn't it?

The tan I'd get from a summer by the pool isn't as important to me as the feeling of giving out picture books to kids at our library's summer reading program. Or the feeling of helping 7-year-old Girl Scouts make a campfire. Or seeing Denise smile toothlessly when she sees me for the first time in the morning. I live for the smiles from the children I help through volunteering. I like to believe that I play a part in keeping the happiness of their childhood from fading.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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babygirlinthetardis said...
Dec. 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm:
Know exactly what you mean. It's fantastic. I volunteer with Brownies and Guides every week and help them out and go on trips with them so they've got an extra hand to help out (even though I'm still counted in the child part of the ratio), and it's brilliant when you see them smiling and having fun, and trying new things as well. That's definitely the best bit, when you encourage them and then they go out and do it.
 
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