Celebrating 20 years….A Missing Piece of the Puzzle
This post is from an essay written by Kerry Fleming while in her freshman year at Providence College. She is now about to graduate, and the essay was discovered while ‘cleaning out’ a desk…
The small dining area beneath the old church was beginning to fill with guests, In the small kitchen, a few women and men prepared large trays of pasta, meatballs, and lasagna. People moved quickly through the door, trying to escape the blistering cold that swirled around menacingly outside. Fingers beginning to tingle, they shook off their jackets, small snowflakes falling to the floor. As the dinner hour approached, each person found a seat at one of the foldable tables, except for the few toddlers crawling around the room, To an outsider, the scene could have looked like an episode of “Rugrats:” the children played with toys and chased after one another under tables and over the small alter at the front of the room. No one seemed to mind the rambunctious children because they belonged to her, the woman who opened her door to these strangers, providing a hot meal and a place to hide from the relentless New England winter.
After my uncle died of AIDS in 1992, my grandmother organized meals one night a month for people suffering from the fatal disease. Her six other children joined her on these nights to give their help, bringing their children along with them. As one of the toddlers, I saw the dinners solely as a place to play with my cousins and was unaware of the impact that these gatherings would have on me as I grew up.
Seven years later, I eagerly awaited my birthday, excited to turn thirteen years old, the age when I could finally begin volunteering at Newton Wellesley Hospital. As soon as possible, I signed up to volunteer and began working at the front desk of the Maternity Ward. I was happy to be helping my community, but something was missing. While she fed the sick and homeless, did my grandmother feel the same way I felt when I pressed a button all day to let visitors into the Maternity Ward? I transferred from volunteer job to volunteer job for two years at the hospital, wondering what was missing from each position that I took. The next year, I participated in occasional volunteering projects, giving my time to school organizations and church events. Still, I could not find a place where I felt passionate about the work that I was doing.
I spent the summer before my junior year in high school thinking about where I could find a volunteer job that was right for me. Remembering a place where my older sister used to volunteer, I contacted a friend of our family, Sister Denise. She hired me to spend Tuesday afternoons playing with and tutoring a seven-year old girl named J who lived at Bethany Hill School, a place for families to live while they work to find a better path in life. At first, I was tentative, unsure if she would like me or find my advice helpful; but after a few weeks, I could sense that we were warming up to one another. Each week I saw how happy she was as she skipped into the play room to meet me, her Hannah Montana backpack bouncing through the door. We spent most of the time working on J’s homework, me providing the encouragement, watching her complete easy problems quickly and struggle with difficult ones, only helping when she looked close to giving up. I gave her tips on how to work through hard problems at home so that she would feel my support when I was not with her. I began to see my help taking effect she she used my hints and worked through problems on her own. One Tuesday, she handed me a piece of paper with large awkward numbers on it. ”Look,” she said, eyes wide, a cherubic smile spread across her small face, “I got all the math problems right on my homework!” I recognized the worksheet from the previous week and remembered how we had worked together to master the skills of multiplication. I had shown her how to use plastic bears to demonstrate the difficult operation, a trick that I remembered from when I was her age. At that moment, the puzzle was complete. Seeing the accomplishment on her face was all I needed to realize that this was the volunteering job that I had been looking for. Here, I felt passionate about helping my friend and wanted nothing more at that moment than to see this girl grow up and succeed. We spent the next hour creating sentences with a list of vocabulary words and I hoped that next week she could present this new homework assignment to me with the same bright smile.