I remember scooping jell-o in the lunch line at the St. Francis House Homeless Shelter in Boston to a man with a bicycle helmet strapped around his furry beard, an oversized hiking backpack buckled over three winter coats, and a garbage bag weighing down his left arm. His soft, girly voice surprised me as he graciously said, “Dearie, thank you sooo much for this wonderful hearty and delicious meal, and the precious time you have given up to help us. You’re a star.” Goose bumps tingled down my spine.
I remember walking with Zandile through the alleyways of Kliptown, South Africa, past rusty barbed wire, garbage soaking in puddles, and shoeless children playing in the mud. Her shack was built out of old sheet metal and newspapers, and had one bed for eight people, a couch missing some cushions, and a small stove inside. Far from being embarrassed of such a dwelling, Zandile smiled and told me how proud she was of her home and how content she was just to be alive every day, especially there with me.
I remember crossing the street with the group of five year olds from Lena Park’s summer camp, holding Alfonso’s sweaty miniature hands. He did not let me out of his sight for the entire time we were at the park, as we collected bugs, passed the soccer ball, and talked about dinosaurs. The counselor then told me that Alfonso’s mom had recently died and he had been beaten by his father. He was so happy to finally spend time with someone who was kind to him.
I remember the basketball game my team played with the Cotting School for mentally and physically challenged kids. I pushed Charlie down the court in his wheelchair with the basketball in his lap, as everyone in the gymnasium clapped. After I positioned him right under the basket, he threw the ball up like a rocket taking off in the air. Watching the ball swish through the hoop, Charlie’s mouth opened wider than it had ever done before, as this was the first basket he had ever made in a game. He kept grinning as the packed gymnasium roared and his mother flashed her camera like the paparazzi.
I believe in giving back to others. My school believes in community service, and I have been lucky enough to participate in several service trips around the world and in my own neighborhood. I have learned from these experiences not to take for granted the roof above my head, my stable family, the ability to play a normal game of basketball, and most importantly, the time I have with others. I have come to understand that the one who helps others feels just as rewarded as the one who receives the help. Seeing the smiles of those I spent time with made me smile, knowing how much my efforts were appreciated. For the rest of my life, I hope to bring smiles to those who need it, in any way that I can.