The first opportunity I had to go back to volunteering was one of the best days of high school. I was greeted by all of the students in Miss Martin’s class. It was a long overdue visit. It had been 16 weeks, and they were all excited to see me and my new changes. I thought it would be awkward and that they wouldn’t want to talk with me, but it was the opposite. All of the students came up to say hi. One student came up and asked me if I was okay, and another asked me why I was driving this thing. I was laughing at all of their questions because these kids don’t have a filter, and they are not afraid to talk about anything. The best moment came when one specific student rushed up to me and kept repeating the word “tree.” At first I didn’t know what he was talking about. When I realized that he was referring to the tree that I hit back in December, I started laughing hysterically. One of his aides explained to me that they had to tell him I hit a tree because he kept saying “Susie hit a brick wall.”
One of my biggest fears when I returned to school was that my classmates and my students wouldn’t treat me the same as before, that they would view me differently than them. I felt as if I had to tell my classmates how I expected to be treated, which I did during my speeches in the Goodwin Theater. But I didn’t have to do that with my students. My students accepted my wheelchair and my changes, but they also asked a lot of questions to learn about my differences. This showed me how community service changes lives, because the students I served for the past two years were now serving me. They show everyone how simple and easy it is to accept everyone and their differences.
That same student's acceptance doesn’t stop at questions. One day when I was volunteering, he was reading a book to me. He had read this book a million times, and had it memorized. I was told by Miss Martin to have a conversation after reading the book to give him the chance to tell me what the book was about and to share his favorite parts. When I asked him who his favorite character was he looked really hard at the book, but couldn’t decide. My student then asked me who my favorite character was and picked one that looked good to me. At this point I tried to point to my favorite character, He told me to point out my favorite character, and I tried but I obviously cannot, so he then grabbed my hand, and guided it towards the character I picked. He didn’t ask questions, he did not make this a big deal. He helped me – rather, he served me. I was stunned by this, because I was always the one to help me, but now he’s had the chance to help me. This story shows how service should be, and how much everyone involved can take out of the experience.
How can community service change lives? I have served the kids in Miss Martin’s class for two years. They taught me how to build connections with people who appear to be different, but really aren’t. They have showed me not to focus on the negative things, and to simply have fun. These lessons are exactly how I want to live my life.
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