Just last month my mom was asked by one of her friends at church if she would want to do some volunteering for an organization called Breaking Free. This organization provides care for women who are attempting to free themselves from sexual trafficking. My mom was very interested in helping out at one of the organization’s baby showers, and wanted to know if I would be willing to volunteer with her. While she was telling me about Breaking Free, I had no desire whatsoever to spend my Saturday which is usually reserved for making desserts to eat while I watch movies, instead of driving to a slum part of St.Paul to work for no pay, for people I don’t know. A few minutes after this conversation, I began thinking about the Birkenstocks that I really wanted, and then I had an idea. I decided to make a deal with my mom; I would volunteer and begrudgingly waste my precious weekend as long as she buys me a pair of Birks. When I made the proposition, I was surprised that she accepted it. I was unsure if I just got myself into a terrible situation, or the best, because I get Birks for two hours of work. Out of the optional jobs for volunteers at the shower, I chose childcare.
At 9:00 am, when I would usually be sleeping in, my mom and I arrived in St. Paul. I was apprehensive of my commitment to my mother when I saw people loitering around the streets, most smoking. There was a rusty truck filled to the brim with junk bearing a “for sale” sign. As my mom and I walked on the rundown sidewalks towards the house, we passed a few homeless people and I had never felt so out of place. While we were welcomed into the house, I observed that besides my mom and I, there were only two other white people present, who were both volunteers as well.
As my mother and I were then shown to the childcare room I felt a bit more secure when I saw toys like Play-Doh, familiar to me from my childhood. As the women began arriving, my mom and I were intrusted with two kids to watch; a five-month old infant, and a four-year old named Major. When Major came into the room, he had already decided that he didn’t want to be here. I showed him almost all the toys in the room, but every time I would suggest a toy he would shake his head or say “heck, no!” and look at me like I was insane. When I asked Major what he wanted to do all he said was that he wanted to “just go home.” At this point, I highly identified with his feelings. His mom came down and gave him her phone, and the four-year old sat there playing Grand Theft Auto and driving his digital car into walls for fun, while I was left pawing through the toy box for something interesting that could pull him off the phone and be fun for him. As most iPhone users can testify, phone batteries only last for so long, and soon Major was again out of something to do. While looking through the toy box, I found a tied Target bag with something plastic inside of it. When I opened up the bag, I became excited because I knew that it might be something Major was interested in. When I pulled out the mini basketball game and finger football kit, I knew I had hit gold because Major ran over from his spot of seclusion on a rocking chair in the corner to see what I had. I taught him the rules to the game, and soon we were laughing, talking and he was drinking one of the juices I offered him.
After Major had grown tired, he noticed the huge box of Play-Doh containers and equipment and asked if we could make stuff together. I took out the box and sat down, then Major climbed on my lap and hugged me. He told me that he would make me lunch then began to roll out some colored dough and cut it into slices as pretend pizza. Major rushed upstairs to find his mom and show her his finished product when he made Play-Doh cookies, but she completely disregarded him and pretended like she hadn’t even heard about it. Firstly this made me outraged because I feel like even I, a 15 year old student, could raise a child better, with more emotional support in their life. Secondly made me sad, seeing this sweet kid ignored, which made me determined to show Major that he is important and that people care about him. Major asked me to give him a piggy back ride to the child care room in the basement. When we arrived back in the room he decided he wanted to build some towers with wood blocks. He and I both had a fun time building, but I was also saddened when I would hear him occasionally swearing or doing other actions that aren’t normal for a four-year old because of his upbringing.
Although it seemed like only a few minutes, soon my two hours of volunteering were nearing the end. Major waved me goodbye, with his hands full of the juice boxes we allowed him to take home, and I began cleaning up the toy room. As I was cleaning, I thought about how drastically Major’s personality changed and how he had warmed up to me. I wondered if my attitude becoming less about myself and more about his needs made him more open and loving.
I realized that I should go into things with an open mind, hoping to serve others rather than looking for what I could gain from a situation. As my mom and I headed to buy my Birkenstocks, I felt bad about spending that much money on a pair of shoes when these kids sometimes have to skip meals because their parents can’t afford it. Volunteering also made me recognize my entitlement and appreciate what I have instead of complaining about things I don’t. With the way my eyes were opened to others, I’m sure there will be more willful volunteering in my future and hopefully in other’s as well.