Volunteering Provides Meaningful Growth Experiences

I’m sitting in a pavilion in what my tutee deems the “Flower Park.”  From what I can see, there are more weeds than flowers.  The sky is so grey, I feel that if I breath too hard it may cause a downpour.  I look up to the peeked point of the pavilion — holes let the grey sky seep through the wood’s rough construction.  I think about moving the picnic table away from the hole in the roof and instead decide to pray it doesn’t rain.  I’ve already had one man say “Hey Beautiful,” and strike up a conversation with me.  From where I’m sitting I can see a young man with long blonde hair setting up camp at a nearby picnic table, a Rainbow clothing store, and three woodchucks all coming unnaturally close to the park’s patrons.

I keep an eye out for my tutee, hoping that looking like I’m waiting for someone will keep me from appearing too strange in my work blazer, pencil skirt, and literacy materials splayed out over the table.

My tutee arrives right on time and finally I can breathe a sigh of relief and stop looking over my shoulder.  Volunteering pushes you out of your comfort zone and gives a deep insight into another’s culture and life that you can not get in many other ways.  I find my volunteer experience with Literacy Volunteers to be closely aligned with traveling the world in terms of how much I am growing and learning about myself and the world around me.

My tutoring meeting this week was held at a park near my tutee’s house.  Her car recently broke down and the park was one of the few public places that was close enough for her to walk to.  As tutors, we are not supposed to meet in anyone’s house or drive our tutee anywhere due to safety and liability.  I know that and my tutee knows that, so somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to meet in the public park.  My tutee assured me that if it started to rain, there were pavilions we could go under.  The day of our meeting, the sky looked as angry as ever so instead of chancing it, I set up under the pavilion.

As soon as my tutee arrived at our meeting spot, my feeling of being out-of-place was diminished.  Seeing how comfortable, and unnoticing she was calmed me.  Although my head was still on a swivel when an ambulance and a fire truck came to the park, a group of young Asian boys walked by screaming in what I assume was Mandarin and throwing their shoes at the trees, a man and a woman seemed to do drugs at the table behind us, and a woman stood in the parking lot for several minutes waiting for someone who arrived and handed her a tightly wrapped plastic baggy.  Needless to say, my tutee had more focus than I did at our first meeting in the park.

One of the best parts about meeting with my tutee is learning about her culture and her way of life.  At our meeting this week, we were working on structuring an essay.  She choose food as the topic for her essay.  Throughout our work, I got to learn her philosophy in the kitchen and how she likes to keep her house clean.  She even showed me pictures of her entire house, and various plates of food she has made.

Letting her share these elements of her life with me while we work together fosters our relationship.  At the end of each session she always walks away with a “thank you soo much,” and I thank her as well.  For opening my eyes, allowing us to work harmoniously together, and for giving me this lovely growth experience.