This past weekend I completed my first project with New York Cares, the city's leading volunteer organization. I decided to sign up with New York Cares when I realized that I actually have more free time now after having finished up with school even with a full-time job. As a student my work was never really done. Not only was I a full time student but I also had an internship and was involved in several other extra curricular activities. There was always more reading or studying to be done for one class or another, so it was often difficult me to fully enjoy myself on weekends with the nagging in the back of my mind that I still had work to do in advance of classes on Monday. Now that I don't have work to do on weekends, that frees up my schedule tremendously, and I figured that it was time for me to give back and make good use of some of the new free time I've acquired.
There are numerous different projects you can sign up for with New York cares including: reading to younger kids, teaching older adults basic computer skills, practicing English with immigrants, working at soup kitchens, playing bingo with the elderly at old folk homes, and raking/gardening work. For my first project I decided to go to East Harlem to play sports with over a dozen first and second graders.
I wasn't sure what to expect with the volunteer project, and I was definitely a bit nervous about traveling all the way to E. Harlem by myself and trying to find where the school was located, but my newest thing since moving to NYC is to challenge myself on a consistent basis and force myself to try things that I'm originally uncomfortable or hesitant about. I'm not really used to playing
or even being around young kids, but I figured that since sports are something I'm familiar with, that would be the easiest way to be able to relate to the kids.
Overall, I had a pretty good time. The kids were, well,…kids. I forgot how hyper and rambunctious they are! Boy do I wish I had that much energy. They were running around as if they had an IV of Red Bull coursing through their veins. We started off the day by breaking into teams of 4 and having relay races to get warmed up. I was with one other volunteer and two second grade boys. I cheered on our team and encouraged everyone to run as fast as they could so we could win. I tried hard not to laugh when one of the little boys flagged down the male team leader and “”whispered”” in his ear that he didn't want to be paired with girls for the relay race. His attitude quickly changed though when our team won, and I finally got his approval. I then spent the next two hours playing soccer and football with the boys. They were aggressive little ball-hogs and liked to make up their own rules as we went along, but I just went with the flow of things, and the time passed fairly quickly.
By the end of the two hours I was exhausted and definitely ready for a nap. I'd like to commend anyone who works with young kids because, as cute as they can sometimes be, they sure require a lot patience, and you must always stay alert while keeping track of each individual. I really do believe that it requires a special sort of person to be able to teach and supervise young children. I feel like it's like life guarding on land.
During the last hour I spent with the kids, the other volunteers and I helped them make a healthy snack. I'd occasionally find myself simply observing the kids interact with one another. By the end of the three hours I was becoming familiar with their distinct personalities, and I thought it was cute how quickly seemingly attached they became to some of the volunteers in such a short time. Their innocence and vulnerability was so refreshing. It made me reflect on my own childhood.
While the first thing I did when I returned home from volunteering was to crawl into bed and relax for a few hours, I'm still very happy that I completed my first project with New York Cares. Isn't it funny that I feel like I took just as much away from this experience as I gave? I suppose that's what making a difference is all about in a way. When doing something makes you contemplate life and appreciate the thing you're doing, it becomes a mutual exchange with both parties benefiting.