My freshmen year at Loyola University Maryland allowed me to take part in an experience that I am close to certain I would not have had at my other option, The University of Delaware. Loyola, and more specifically my philosophy class gave me the option of service learning through Acts 4 Youth, a local Baltimore organization specializing in assisting at risk boys from low-income households towards character and confidence. Every Friday afternoon of my first semester, I would head back to my dorm from class, drop my backpack on my bed, and leave for Guilford Elementary. The walk was quick and quite nice really. Upon entrance to the school however, I realized the irony accompanied with my walk. The classroom was noisy and the kids disobedient. Unlike the walk, they were initially not so nice. Before this day, I was given statistics that should have opened my eyes to what I would be coming in contact with. Less than a handful of the boys in that classroom had fathers at home and almost all of them ate lunch at a discounted cost. I walked there every Friday thinking these boys needed me, but by the end of that semester, it turned out that I needed them.
What I realized over the course of the program was how unaware I really was to the circumstances these children lived with. I related my situation to Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. The poem talks about two neighbors and their relationship, or lack there of. The “wall” refers to a “fence” that disconnects these two neighbors socially. A fence separated me from the rest of the world. This fence could be the community I live in, a neighborhood outside of Princeton, NJ or my parents and the way they raised me. “Good Fences make Good Neighbors” applied directly to me.
I was always aware of poverty and subordinate living conditions, but that was only through word and writing. I went to Catholic school all of my life, but none of them were located in an urban environment prone to at risk children like Loyola is. Not only was that the case, but service was only a small part of my school’s education. Last year, I was hands-on in a world I am ashamed to admit I knew so little about. Because of this program, not only did I hopefully make an impact in the lives of the children I spent my Friday afternoons with, but it is a fact that they made an impact on mine. Now I can say I am more conscientious to the news and people around me.
Regarding the kids I worked with, I grew a closer relationship with them over the semester. At first we were both intimidated of each other. There was me, an older Caucasian boy from the wealthy university down the street and then there was them, the local students who upon first impression were wild and out of control. After working with them weekly, we grew a closer bond and I took a genuine interest in their lives and well-being. I wanted them to learn, and they did. I can honestly say that each and every one of those boys grew as young men over the course of that semester. One boy in particular, Kashar, went from often being excluded from football due to in-class behavior to achieving 5 stars weekly (which is the highest honor given for good behavior). I guess you can say the wall was never built in the end. The properties were left as is and the Guilford community and I grew farther apart as neighbors, and closer as people in the community.