“I love you Miss. Colleen!”

If you’d ask me what I’m most proud of in my life thus far, I’d have to say my volunteer year in Chicago (as a part of the Augustinian Volunteer Program which my older sister Megan also did.) My one year anniversary since finishing the program just passed and lately I find myself thinking about my time there. I can’t believe it’s been a year!

While in Chicago, I volunteered at St. Margaret of Scotland grammar school on the south side of town. I was in the Pre-K with 3, 4 and 5 year old’s. I worked closely with a woman named Ms. Gunn, who is absolutely amazing with children and who taught me so much. She is one of the most hard-working women I’ve ever met. I admire her very much and thoughts of her will always bring a smile to my face. :)

Our Pre-K classroom truly  emitted rays of love and affection from all four corners; laughter and chattering of small voices constantly filled the space. Seventeen young children came every day to stimulate their minds and to practice friendship with one another in a comfortable, safe environment. The children in my class were the most fun ever. I loved every single one of those little guys.

Each hug, and ‘I love you Miss. Colleen,’ each and every craft and discovery made together showed me the potential these children hold. Each parent who made the effort to get to know me during my time at St. Margaret’s’ showed progress. Being the minority in school yet feeling as though people saw who I was, not just the color of my skin showed me acceptance.

I lived with three amazing people in Chicago (one worked at school with me and the two others worked at a nearby High School.) We didn’t always get along perfectly, but we were like a family. We worked well together, and I learned so much from them. Like Ms. Gunn, thoughts of my roommates still bring a smile to my face.

This year was tough – I was away from my family, friends and Colin. We all just graduated from college and all my friends were moving into Boston together, getting jobs. I was out in Chicago living with people I was assigned to live with, at a job I was assigned to, making $25 a week. I doubted why I was there many times. Why was I doing this? Because I knew I was supposed to and I knew I needed to. Why didn’t I give up and leave when it was tough (even if I really wanted to)? Because I made a commitment to my volunteer program, my roommates and most of all my students. I wanted to give up, but I didn’t; this is why I’m proud of myself.

At the end of the school year I received the most awesome gift; one of my students mother’s wrote me a letter. Part of the letter read:

“In just a few months with you, Ms. Colleen I saw a change in Milan’s attitude toward learning… This one year has changed my household. I take more joy in my children. It’s sad and great to say- it’s because my daughter met a teacher who inspired her and she came home to inspire us. She’s five- more confident, much more verbal and a heck of a lot wiser. Thank you for coming here for a spell.”

Volunteer work is not an easy task; but it is a gift unlike any other. I learned more than I ever could have in college; gained more life experience than I ever imagined could fit into a year. This note was the reassurance I was waiting for since the day my application was sent to the volunteer program.

Some photos from my year!:

Chicago!

The "Bean"

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