Ready to Volunteer?: Inspiration from the Field (by Guest Blogger Faylao Chao)

My name is Faylao and I recently graduated from PSU with a Bachelors of Arts in Child and Family Studies. I am writing to express the reasons why I volunteer and what it means to me as well as the students I have worked with…

I volunteered in a kindergarten classroom and I remember a specific student who had trouble writing her name. As I worked with the student, I continuously encouraged her to attempt to trace letters by herself after I traced a few with her. She hesitated with each assignment she received even though she did understand how to complete the assignment. I would check in with her and give her acknowledgement as well as little praise for her work. At the end of this volunteer experience, I hoped to have given her encouragement and confidence to overcome her insecurities.

Summer Camp While I like my ‘school-year position’, I absolutely love my summer position. The reason why? I have the opportunity to work directly with youth for eight to ten weeks. What is so great about that? I have the privilege of building relationships with them and impacting their lives, even in the smallest of ways or for a short period of time. This past summer, I had the opportunity to get to know two foster children and they significantly grew throughout the summer. Each counselor could tell that they made a difference in the lives of these two—not by their words but through hugs and smiles. We were not the only ones to make a difference; they impacted our lives too through their joy and appreciation. I have worked with the summer program for over nine years. Summer after summer, I am greeted by warm smiles from parents and youth and at the end of the program, I am thanked by parents who say hope to see you next summer. Through this experience, I have built relationships with the youth and their parents, which in turn strengthens my own relationship with my community and strengthens the community’s relationship with the program.

Because I work in an afterschool program environment, I have seen firsthand the impact individuals and volunteers can have on high school students. I do not have the gift as some naturally do to work with high school students. However, just like children, high school students need the same positive relationships that some seem to lack. Recognizing this has encouraged me to occasionally stop the work I am doing and have open conversations to create those relationships. I feel especially strong about the need to volunteer in high school programs, simply because this is where I feel students are most vulnerable. We all remember, regardless of whether we want to or not, what high school was like—always needing to fit into a crowd, worrying about what others think of us and not being different. I have learned that some youth act out in negative ways because they do not have a continual powerful, positive, and encouraging force in their life directing them in a manner that leads them to success or positive outcomes.

Recently, I worked with a student who expressed to me that she was having trouble getting along with others in her group of friends. After talking with those involved individually, I figured out that there was miscommunication and lack of communication overall to overcome it, which created the tension between the girls. I would not have seen what was occurring had I not talked with the student because things seemed to be normal. When I can, I take the opportunity to interact with students one-on-one. I do this for two reasons: it builds a personal connection and it gives the student an opportunity to be heard. At any age, every individual needs to feel like they matter (which they do) and by volunteering, I invest in the lives of those I work with.

I hope that my volunteer experience and community-based work has encouraged you to volunteer in your community in some capacity. While I may have a significant amount of experience in volunteer work, I believe that all you need as a volunteer is your own life experience and the willingness to do what is needed.

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