I always thought that when I got a job, it would be boring. My first job, as a peer leader for a group known as Shortstop, is the most exciting and probably the best I will ever have. Working within my community is a wonderful experience because it allows me to change what I see needs changing, help those in need and form close relationships with my peers.
When I first started as a peer leader at Shortstop, I didn't even know what a peer leader was, what my tasks would be or whether I would even like this job. I only applied because my mother was making me.
When you're a peer leader, there really is no fixed schedule to follow, except to show up on time. As a leader I can change what I feel needs changing. If I see graffiti I don't like, I can talk to the other peer leaders and we clean it up. If there's a park that needs to be cleaned up, we'll do that.
The biggest problem in my community, however, is tobacco use and its sale to minors. This is the main issue Shortstop focuses on. To control it, we do compliance checks and go to stores to try to purchase cigarettes. If the store sells to us, it gets fined because we are under age. We also talk to elementary school kids and teens about the harmful effects of tobacco. If someone smokes but wants to quit, we offer help and support. We also help organize festivals (like the Great American Smokeout), to encourage people to quit for at least one day.
Whenever someone comes to Shortstop for advice, we are ready. Whether it's boyfriend trouble or HIV positive information, we support them. It's the greatest feeling to know you are helping someone who trusts you with their problems.
In addition to changing what needs to be changed and helping those in the community, the best part of being a peer leader is the close bond formed with others in your group. The ten teens I work with are the nicest people I have ever met. Being part of this group allows me to be open and talk about feelings.
Peer leading has changed my life. Before I started, I was shy, had a negative concept of people and didn't know how to talk about how I felt. Today, however, I am self-confident, look for the best in people and know who I can and can't trust. I have been a part of Shortstop for two years and it's the best thing I have ever done. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.