The summer leading up to my freshman year at USD, I received an unexpected call from the Student Director of what was then called America Reads/America Counts. “Are you still interested in joining this community service-learning program under your work-study award?” “Oh wow. I had no idea I’d be getting a phone call this summer. Absolutely, yes!”
Little did I know how drastically that simple affirmation would change my entire college experience.
For the past two years I have worked at Linda Vista Elementary through this work-study program, now called Youth to College. I have worked with students all along the social and economic spectrum. I have worked with students with autism and ADHD. I have worked with some students that hated school, some who loved school, and some who thought it their refuge. After some time, I finally realized that every student has one thing in common with all the others - spirit. Their eyes would light up with a bright idea, a story they were telling, or information that just went “click!” It was this incredible spirit for life that allowed me to see that it wasn’t just me teaching them; they were teaching me just as much. They tested my patience and understanding (I passed), reinvented my meaning of community involvement, and forced me to appreciate the small things in life. I have learned that working in the community is not just about helping, but about building. It is about building those relationships that you never expected to have and working together for something better. I don’t think I would have ever realized this without those kids. Very few want to simply be told how to fix something and left to their own devices. When we did activities together, we all felt much more enjoyment and success.
As my involvement in the CASA office has grown, I have grasped the fact that this can be applied to anything that CASA is involved it. The work done here is not just to place people in a situation to “help the needy.” Instead, everything here is aimed at building a better community where diversity doesn’t alienate anyone, but gives us all more reason to work together to fight problems that affect us all and make positive changes that lead to more peace and unity.
I truly believe that without CASA, my USD experience would have been without a purpose. I would have gone to class and gone home, with some trips to the beach thrown in there, of course. I would never have built the ties I have built, and I would never seen the beautiful Linda Vista community right up the street from our campus. These experiences have shaped my eyes for the future and made every day feel like it matters. Simple things like my daily interactions are more positive and friendly, and I am much more willing to be a part of a whole, rather than place myself in a hole made only for one, which I have admittedly done before. There is so much out there for us to be part of, and I’m glad I’ve been given the chance to see that. And, as the new Student Director of Youth to College, I can only hope that I can help someone else find the purpose I did. I am convinced that together we can make the world better, step by courageous step.
So, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver
I know my answer. Do you know yours?