Four weeks later and I’m already nearly done with my Fellowship! This first check in comes weeks past its time, and I can say with certainty that it’s because I dove so deep into this experience that I’ve hardly had any time to emerge. Part of me is glad because now I’ve had so much time to gather my thoughts and get an accurate feel of what this program is about.
Everyday I come into the Wellness Center and sign in as a volunteer, and then head into the office of the coordinator of the entire Cornelius location. She and I check-in and discuss the schedule of the day, what activities the kids are going to be doing, and what needs to be set up in advance to make things run smoothly. Then I check all of the kids in and sometimes speak to their parents to let them know what will be happening throughout the day. Many of them only speak spanish, so I get the assistance of one of the outreach coordinators when our communication gets a little rocky. After the kids are checked in, I take them to their first class of the day which is usually hip hop or movie-making. It’s amazing how they’ll be so shy with me when they first arrive, but are joking with me and bring out their personalities in just the first class. There is almost always a teacher leading these classes, which include those two, self-defense, art, bootcamp, bullying seminars, and engineering. I cannot believe how much these kids are getting to do, my summers were spent reading and playing outside! Sometimes I get the chance to lead a class when a teacher doesn’t show up which is nerve wracking but fun at the same time. Most days, however, I’m there to assist in whatever they need, transport the kids from class to class, and prepare and give them their daily snack. It’s always a full day of high energy and guaranteed chaos and sometimes drama, but always worth it.
When I first walked into the clinic, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For some reason my thoughts were that I would be a burden to the whole Center and its operation, as an outsider who would need to be shown the ropes. Luckily, that hasn’t been my experience at all! So many people have taken me under their wing and are the major part of why I’ve been enjoying myself so much these past few weeks. Their hard work and long days (and sometimes nights) of dedication to the success of the clinic’s operation have inspired me to give myself fully to being a part of their team. I did not think it was possible to get along with co-workers so well, and in an instant! They give me solace and keep me sane when the kids I work with start to rile me up. The kids are between the ages of 6 and 14, so there’s a huge range of experiences, interests, abilities, and personalities. These differences sometimes make it difficult to keep all twenty-some of them interested in the activities we’re doing, but it’s also what makes it so great to get to know each and every one of them.
Living in my family home throughout my time here has had its ups and downs, however it’s been a mostly positive experience. One of the best parts is that I feel so connected to what I’m doing. The area that I’m serving in is just a quick thirty minute drive from my house, and I’ve been out there many times before, so there was already a foundation of what I could expect. The biggest downside to living in this familiarity is that I’ve felt that I’ve been missing something. As I read about the other Fellows’ trips I can’t help but envy some of their completely immersive experiences! While I sometimes feel pulled my family and friend life that I’ve already built here, they are jumping into the deep end and are probably having no trouble feeling like they are 100% there for their programs. Only being at the clinic for 7 hours a day has its limits on how much I can interact with the other clinic workers, volunteers and community members. I expected to have these emotions about my living situation, but not to the extent that I’m feeling.
The way that I’ve been trying to combat that is to find ways to spend more quality time with these amazing people. I had an instant connection with the Assistant Coordinator of the Wellness Center, as well as one of the Outreach Managers. They were so kind to me on my first day and have invited me on night hikes, kayaking trips, and plenty of dinner dates, which I have gladly accepted and thoroughly enjoyed! One of the families I work with also invited me to their daughter’s Quinceañera, which I am incredibly excited to attend and learn more about the celebration. I’ve never been to one, and by talking with her sister about how much planning and effort go into executing them, I’m sure it’ll be a full day of fun and excitement. I also never thought that I would get this close to the community members that they would want me to take part in such an experience. Time and time again I’ve been shown how welcoming and full of love and open arms almost everyone I’ve worked with are, and it has changed my perspective on my time here completely.
I wish I could explain in a reasonable amount of words all that I’ve done and seen and been a part of, but the best way I can describe it is through a nonsensical series of arm movements and noises that will make me seem crazy. But trust me, I’ll be sharing them with you all soon enough!