A volunteering story by: Luis E Espinosa-Zagal
The Summer Bridge program is a summer program where underprivileged kids from around the community can come and have a fun-filled and healthy summer vacation. These kids usually come from families who cannot afford to travel or go to different places for a vacation and many of the parents spend most of their kid’s summer days working. The Summer Bridge program allows kids to come out and play during the week while their parents are out working. My friend Cynthia was a volunteer for two summers. All the volunteers, as a group, had to come together to figure out what was the plan for the day and who would bring what. Everyday was completely different. For example, one day they had a softball tournament and on another they invented a running game called “Shark.” There were days where the volunteers would even go out and take them bowling. There were also days where they had different stations set up around the park so groups of kids could rotate throughout the day. One station would have the card game Uno, another freeze tag, another an obstacle course, and another soccer. It was up to the volunteers to put together the different games and prepare the stations every day so that the kids would never get bored. It was up to them to make sure they had an amazing, fun summer. The volunteers were also in charge of the kids because none of the parents were present. It was up to them to ensure they were safe, hydrated, and happy. It was also extremely important that they made sure that the kids returned home safely and with the correct adult. The volunteers were in charge of a strict checking in and checking out process. She says that not only was Summer Bridge super fun for the kids, but it was very fun for the volunteers too!
My friend Cynthia has done a ton of volunteering because she says she enjoys it a lot. The Summer Bridge program was the first time she had ever volunteered. In high school she joined the National Honors Society. That organization required members to complete a certain amount of community service hours. One day she attended a meeting for the club where a member of the community center came to see if kids where willing to help him out with his new Summer Bridge program over the summer. Cynthia thought it sounded fun so she signed up for it that day. Her initial plan was to stay for half the summer so she could complete her hours, but that did not happen. She ended up staying the whole summer and returning another summer because she fell in love with the volunteer work she was doing. She said that her inspiration to stay were the kids. She said, “They were all wonderful, smart, and gifted kids. I also saw myself in a lot of the kids.” She said growing up it was just her and her mother. Her mother was always working to provide for her. Most of her summers were spent in doors or in her backyard alone. She had a ton of family and friends, who would go to waterparks, travel out of the state, or even out of the country during the summer. She never really did any of that. She remembers dreading going back to school because every year they would ask everyone what they did during the summer and she felt like she never had anything to say while all the other kids had amazing stories to tell. She did not want any of the kids to feel like she did, so she stayed to help kids have an amazing story to tell when they returned to school.
The Aha! moment…
Cynthia says that she learned a ton from volunteering with the Summer Bridge Program. One thing that she learned is that she had a true passion for helping others. She first started volunteering there because she had too, but it wasn’t long before she realized that she truly loved volunteering. Not only did she love playing with those kids, but also she fell in love with seeing others happy and feeling like she made a difference in someone’s life. Working with these kids sparked a passion within her and she has been volunteering in many different places, doing all kinds of different things, ever since. From working with these kids she also learned that it does not take much to better someone’s day. At the beginning most of the kids were extremely shy. It didn’t take long before most of the kids were opening up to the volunteers. She says that there were days where the kids would arrive a bit mad or upset and leave much happier. She recalls a specific time when an eight-year-old girl named Trinity arrived on the verge of tears. This was extremely unusual because Trinity was usually the one who cheered everyone else up. She says that she was the most hyper and cheery kid of the group. Cynthia knew that she had to get her mind off what was making her upset because seeing her down like that was awful. What made her happy again was simple. It was a combination of smiles, friends, and fun. We played an extremely fun game of Uno and her sadness washed away. Cynthia learned that something as simple as a smile can come a long way and can brighten anyone’s day. These two things that she has learned from volunteering here have changed her life for the better.
To summarize it in three words…
- Friends, Fun, Happiness
Why should you do this
She does recommend others to volunteer as she did. Working with kids is an extremely rewarding opportunity. She says no one would regret it!