Do it for the kids

by Beacon Staff • April 8, 2009

Eight-year-old Carlos sat upright in his chair. He raised his hand and began to jump up and down. "I need help! Can you help me?"

I sat down next to him. The homework assignment was a worksheet of fractions. Adding fractions. I laughed. It'd been years since I had done math like this.

I remembered enough. I looked at him and asked, "Do you know what the common denominator is here?"

He had no idea what I was talking about. He pointed to his worksheet and showed me a bunch of gridded boxes.

I guess they've changed teaching styles since I was in fourth grade. But instead of shading in boxes, as he had been taught, I showed him how to find the common denominator. "What do you have to do to this number to get a four?" I asked, before continuing with the problem.

This was how I spent my spring break, part of Emerson's Alternative Spring Break program, tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club in South Boston. We were there from 1-6 p.m. for five days, and were spread out across the different activities offered at the club.

The kids were amazing. They deal with so many challenges-from home and school-yet still had so much energy.

Their clubhouse is more or less a safe haven for the young people living in the area, alleviating hardships present in the surrounding community-like poverty, poor education, unemployment and crime.

In today's economy, the club-like every other non-profit organization-is more in need of volunteers than ever. They need caring people to do not-so-intimidating things, like mentoring kids through playing games, making artwork or tutoring. Simply put, they just need people who care, happy people-people like you.

With summer approaching and classes ending, it makes sense to give back a little. Whether it is to the Boys and Girls Club, a community theater, summer camp or elementary school, we all ought to give a few hours, a few days, a week to the places that served us, produced our successes and brought us to this relatively fortunate place in the world. The next generation-and the generation after that-needs us.

See: More than 8 million children struggle to read daily, according to the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Children, though only 25 percent of our nation's population, are 35 percent of its poor, according to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.

Understand: It's through after-school programs-like the Boys and Girls Club, Jumpstart, Peace Games, etc.-that children who otherwise would not receive extra attention or help, get it.

Act: It's through volunteers like you that these programs even exist, much less flourish.

"Meena, Come here! I need your help." I looked over at Natalie, a smart first-grader sitting in a chair twice her size.

I was still helping Carlos. I glimpsed over at the class' teacher. She was busy too.

I wasn't sure what to do or how to feel about the lack of adults helping out. Granted, I was only there for a week, but it was a lot to handle. What happens when there are no volunteers and only the singular teacher?

"Natalie, hold on a second," I told her. "Do something you know how to do first. I'll come over in a minute."

I wasn't sure if she was upset, but I was because I couldn't be two places at once. I gazed at her for a second and went back to listening to Carlos talk about his day.

Sometimes, I just felt sad and depressed. I wanted to do more in these kids' lives. I wasn't sure what to think when child after child had trouble either reading simple sentences or adding small numbers-when their assignment was to add entire fractions.

Across the room, I could hear a girl I helped tutor earlier screaming at a girl sitting beside her. When I was helping her, she was frustrated, and I almost lost my patience. She seemed to completely lack motivation. But who's to blame? Her parents? Her teachers? Her? Me? There was obviously a reason for her frustration, and it certainly wasn't exclusively her fault. But with a few more weeks persistence, she could be back on track. If the right person just sat beside her and listened, showed some interest, then maybe it would make the difference.

iMeena Ganesan is a freshman print journalism major and a staff writer for/i The Beacon.