Metamorphosis This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

March 22, 2008
“Oh, don’t let it fall!”

Too late. The elaborate Lego tower toppled over. Vibrant red, blue, green, and yellow exploded across the floor. Blocks of every shape and size flew through the air. The last clunk echoed eerily through the stunned silence.

Then, a small giggle.

“Well, that’s a pity,” I declared, shaking my head. Nicholas looked up at me and smiled sweetly.

“That’s okay,” he cheered brightly. “We’ll build another one.”

Sure enough, there was another Lego architectural masterpiece standing in its place the next day. Truthfully, I was hardly surprised as I cruised through the door; after all, Matthew and Nick, brothers, were architectural geniuses. Lego blocks magically transformed ­into ornate castles in their presence, complete with moats, bridges, and, of course, damsels in distress. And the next day the castle may have morphed into a two-story pirate ship.

Such skill was not uncommon ­during my daily trips to my middle school’s Life Skills class. My inspiration to volunteer came from my own autistic brother. After watching his condition worsen over the years, I vowed to make a difference in somebody else’s life, no matter how miniscule it might be. So, after joining a youth program at my school, I discovered the Life Skills class located in the back of the building.

I had many expectations when I first stepped into the classroom. I expected to feel out of place. I expected the conversations to flow awkwardly at best. I expected to be at a complete loss if a student threw a tantrum or had a seizure. However, I never expected to watch them turn ordinary objects – like Lego blocks – into such extraordinary creations.

Within just a few weeks, I couldn’t stop coming. A couple of hours grew to lots of bonding time with my new classmates. In this class I felt relaxed and secure. I could easily say it was the physical appearance of the classroom, filled with warm, vibrant paper cutouts and comfy couches in corners, but it was really the students who brightened my day.

It was a small class of just seven. There was Mary, as stubborn as she was sweet; Dave, who had a knack for action figures; Sadia, a lover of colors and patterns; Krishna, who never failed to make me laugh; Alex, with a sarcasm and wit to match; and of course, Nick and Matthew. All were diagnosed with Down syndrome.

I soon settled into a comfortable routine of tutoring and playing. Some days I worked with Dave on the computer, pointing out shapes and making comments about his video games. Other times, I helped Sadia count ­animal pictures until she could count to ten. On occasion, I aided Mary with her addition and subtraction worksheets and Krishna with his cutting and gluing. On lazy Fridays, I simply acted as a helper, moving around the room to ensure a stress-free environment.

My favorite time of the year was the holidays. Abuzz with clouds of sparkling glitter and tissue confetti, the room shone with anticipation. Rivers of glue oozed from bottles, and hands were soaked with the stringy remnants of paste. Lines of tape adorned the rooms and stuck stubbornly to the undersides of desks and tables. Piles of paper to be designed into Mardi Gras masks or winter snow­flakes or grinning ­orange jack-o-lanterns would keep the students entertained and engaged.

On such days, students would flutter around the room, their slender fingers gripping excitedly for more sequins or stickers. Like a frantic shadow, I followed, making sure that the pumpkin’s eyes lined up properly with the mouth or that the candy canes didn’t hang crookedly on the tree. Often, I thought the chaos would never end. But it ­always did, and then I couldn’t wait until the next holiday rolled around.

I graduated from middle school two years ago, and while some weeks blurred into a haze, those busy days of cutting and gluing continue to sparkle like hidden diamonds in a tornado of activity. Of course, I return as often as I can, since preserved memories can never compare to fresh ones.

Even after two years of volunteering, I remain stunned by the infinite benefits it provided me. After a particularly stressful day of high school, an hour with my special peers allows me to ­unwind. The ongoing struggle to find new ways of teaching distracts me from my troubles. By struggling to communicate with Sadia and Matthew, I learned to value my own ability to converse. By reading Dr. Seuss books to Dave, my patience has stretched and expanded beyond normal bounds. And by watching the falling and ­rebuilding of Nick’s block tower, I saw firsthand what it meant to never give up.

For me, volunteering is not an act of charity; it is ingrained in my everyday lifestyle. By teaching others what I know, I discover what I don’t. The students taught me skills that surpassed simple classroom learning. They molded my character to be something more than just another volunteer. In me, they embedded a lifetime of values and virtues – patience, empathy, perception, and compassion – from a few years of volunteer work.

And now, looking back, I smile at my amazing metamorphosis: from a self-centered girl to a young woman ready to face the challenges of the world.

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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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Grace_R said...
Dec. 18, 2010 at 9:09 am
I love working with autistic children too- and I know exactly the awkward feeling you get when you start. You capture the beauty of these children's lives and what it is like to work with them. Thank you for sharing this experience with the world.
toxic.monkey said...
Jan. 22, 2010 at 11:57 am
if there were more people like you around, i think i'd think there was a point to life. thanks for being so great to these kids- my own school has a thing kind of like this, but i'm afraid to join. good writing too :)
tweedle dee said...
Jan. 2, 2009 at 2:36 pm
i loved this. it's so sweet! i'm so happy you got that chance, and that you shared it with us. sorry about your brother.
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