For my STEP signature project, I volunteered at two different Columbus Metropolitan Libraries locations and helped with their Summer Reading Program and other programs they offered for children in different age groups. I sat down with multiple children who came in to read for 15mins. and were awarded with a prize after. I also helped out with the Play To Learn program which was designated for children ages 0-4 accompanied by their mothers and did different activities like learning new letters each session and relating that to different books and themes.
Being a student living on campus, I found really no need to venture off campus for things that I can easily access nearby. If I did have to leave, I usually traveled by bus and while riding on the bus the difference between campus and the rest of the Columbus area is very clear. The building styles change and there’s the section between campus and short north where homeless people stay. Some people I know don’t venture very far because they feel that those areas are dangerous but originally coming from Cleveland I’m used to seeing those types of areas. I just didn’t realize that areas like those could surround campus because I never bothered to look around and explore. I assumed that the whole area was filled with college students and we dominated over everything but that’s not exactly the case. I decided to be volunteer at the Columbus metropolitan library because I wanted to get more involved with the Columbus community and not only be secluded on campus community.
I first started working at the Franklinton Branch and so how they have a small collection of books, dvds, computers, etc. compared to my public library in Cleveland. The kids I met there were amazing and so easy to get along with. They were all passionate about reading and most of the teenagers volunteered at the library as well. I was able to get close to the kids and talk to them about school and family life. I knew before I wanted to work with kids for my future career but now I know for sure that I do. I was also able to work with the different staff members and saw how hard they worked to provide as many programs and incentives for the kids to stay in school and to read more with a very low budget. The second branch I worked at was in Linden, which was slightly bigger than Franklinton. The kids there were less open to new visitors but eventually opened up after a few weeks. Communicating with so many different people with different backgrounds made me realize that I have the ability to make that connection with someone in my future career as a doctor as long as I put the same amount of motivation and persistence that I did working at the libraries.
I built a very strong relationship with the teenager volunteers. They were open to talking to me about everything like school or family life. They are such smart and bright kids and knowing that they are part of the volunteer program at the libraries here shows that they genuinely enjoy helping others and learning how to be more responsible by treating their volunteer job as a real job. This program teaches them discipline, promptness, responsibility, and respectfulness towards the volunteer coordinator. My library back home in Cleveland may be bigger but they never had a teen volunteer program to teach us all these necessary traits.
I also built a strong relationship with the younger kids who I worked with during the Reading Buddies program. I enjoyed talking to them about their goals and dreams because it motivates me to never give up on mine. They are all filled with hope and genuine joy that is so hard to come by as people get older. I remember one of the kids named Darryl (aka DJ), wanted to read for 30 mins. instead of 15 mins., which then changed into an hour of reading and eventually it was just us talking and enjoying each others company. Some days I spent extra hours talking and playing games with them and I had the best time. A lot of the kids came to the library because their home situation is bad but it can’t be seen in their attitudes or faces. There is only complete happiness.
Another relationship that I built while volunteering was with the staff members. Since I worked longer at the Franklinton branch, I was able to really get to know most of the members. I saw how passionate they were when it comes to the kids and their jobs. They don’t have much to work with when it comes to their budget but they make the best of it so that the kids can have the best experience. I really fell in love with the staff when they did a training session and I had to help. I thought that it would just be like any other meeting where we just sit in listen but they wanted me to play the music because they were doing a fun superhero skit to kick off the training session. It surprised me completely on how playful they can be which is a strength especially when working with kids.
This change is important to me because I don’t want to feel like I’m secluding myself to things that around me. A lot of people aim to volunteer internationally and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all but if they want to get involved as soon as possible, I suggest volunteering locally. Personally, I want to be completely aware of my surroundings and be open to meeting different people with different backgrounds. I want to really putting myself out there and get out of my comfort zone. I plan on becoming a pediatrician and working at the library was the best way to start learning the basics which is communicating with kids and knowing how to talk to them and how to build that mutual trust. I learned that working with kids is something I really want to do and enjoy doing. The kids weren’t always joyful and they don’t do well with authority but during these difficult situations, I learned how to calm them down and resolve the problems. Some problems I couldn’t resolve, but they mostly just needed someone to talk to.