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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Twenty-Second Year - Volunteers

I don't know about you
But I'm feeling 22
Everything will be alright
If you keep me next to you
You don't know about me
But I'll bet you want to
Everything will be alright
If we just keep dancing like we're 22
     -Taylor Swift

(Did I just really quote two Taylor Swift songs within a two week period in this blog?  Wowzers.)

But, then again, Taylor Swift seems to be the queen of writing songs about ages.  I'm actively waiting for her next dance hit "Thirty-Three And A Third Forever".

Until then, we'll settle for twenty-two.  The year that I decided that one of the best ways to earn some respect from the community - as well as bulking up my resume for job searching - was volunteer work and community service.

And why not?  Volunteer work is certainly something that a lot of people take pride in.  Sometime after I graduated high school, it became a requirement that all high school students have to complete 40 hours of community service before they are allowed to receive their diplomas, and looking back on it, I wish they had implemented this while I was still in school.  As critical as I am of the Ontario education system, this was one of the things that they got right, as far as I'm concerned.

And, at 22, I began doing some volunteer work at a place that I thought that I would never set foot in.  Ever.  But we'll get to that a little bit later.

In the meantime, let's have a look at what was big in pop culture during the week of my 22nd birthday, shall we?

#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/2003
"Get Busy" - SEAN PAUL

Confession time.  I actually have this listed as one of my guilty pleasure songs.  I'm not usually a fan of rap music, but when you mix it with a little bit of Jamaican reggae flair, I find it quite awesome.  It's probably why I also liked Bob Marley, Inner Circle, and Maxi Priest growing up. 

"The Matrix:  Reloaded"

Pass.  I didn't even like the first one.  Nothing against Keanu Reeves or Laurence Fishburne - I just wasn't all that attracted to the plot line.  The special effects weren't bad though, I'll give them that.

"American Idol"

Sigh...get used to this one, because you'll likely see this one pop up in the next few entries.  This was the year that Ruben Studdard won, and the year that millions of Clay Aiken fans cried foul, claiming that he should have won instead.  In the end...really, what happened to both of them?  Anyone?

Now, 22 was a rather interesting year.  It was the year that I should have graduated from university, but as we all know, I left school early because I knew that it wasn't what I was meant to do.  But, dare I say that leaving school and coming back to my hometown was almost sort of a blessing in disguise.

Sure, I was in debt up to my eyeballs and I didn't really have a set plan in motion.  But I did have a lot of things going for me.  For one, being home allowed me to bond with my niece and three nephews, and I would like to think that I have a close relationship with all four of them.  Had I stayed in Ottawa, I may not have had that happen.  It certainly would have been a lot different.

And, really, coming back home was sort of a good thing because I really didn't know anybody.  My high school classmates were all scattered around Canada and the United States, and knowing that I would likely never see them again made it surprisingly easier for me to get my bearings together.  There were no more negative influences around me, so I was more free to be myself.  I guess in that sense, I took a little bit of the confidence that I discovered in Ottawa back home with me and applied it to life.

(Mind you, it was still a fairly lonely life at 22.  That would eventually change - but it would take a little time for that to happen.)

In the meantime, it was suggested that I try my hand at volunteer work, and it was my sister that floated the idea by me.  At the time, my nephew was starting kindergarten, and she thought that if I at least went and volunteered at his school ten hours a week in the two kindergarten classes, it would add some experience to my resume, and it might make him feel more comfortable in class if he saw a familiar face.

And here's the kicker.  The very place where my nephew attended kindergarten was my old elementary school!  You know, the one that I hadn't set foot in for eight whole years?

This kind of made me nervous.  Sure, my time in elementary school wasn't quite as horrific as high school, but it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns.  Some of the kids were cruel - and some of the teachers were even crueler.  And of course, I had a bit of a reputation of being a "problem child" because of my struggle to make friends, so the last thing I needed was to have the faculty look at me with judging eyes.

So, imagine my surprise when I started volunteering at the school and realizing that with the exception of one teacher, everyone else was GONE!  Seriously!  I was only gone for eight years, and the entire staff had been completely replaced!  It was so weird.

Then again, most of the teachers that I had in school were over the age of fifty.  Most of them retired, and in the case of a janitor and my old music teacher (the one I referenced in my year 13 memory), they sadly passed away.

But this was also a good thing.  Nobody knew me at that school.  Nobody knew of what happened in that school while I was a student, and I was perfectly fine with that.  It felt like I was getting a fresh new start with that school, and I breathed a sigh of relief over it.

There were two kindergarten teachers at the school that I volunteered at.  There was my nephew's teacher, Ms. Zaky, and Mrs. Smith, the other kindergarten teacher.  Mrs. Smith was in room one (my old classroom), and Ms. Zaky was in room two.  Mrs. Smith taught two classes of kids, while Ms. Zaky taught one.  I believe the schedule was Mrs. Smith's A class and Ms. Zaky's class were in every Monday and Wednesday, and every other Friday.  Mrs. Smith's B class was Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other Friday.

And, as far as which class I liked the best?  I can't deny it.  I loved them all. 

Now, you may think that being in a class filled with two dozen four and five year olds would have been pure hell on earth, but for whatever reason, I loved every minute of it.  I loved reading stories to them.  I played puzzles with them.  I helped teach them how to write their names.  I even taught them my special trick to make green by mixing blue and yellow together.

I even remember the time that I volunteered to be one of the "parent" chaperones for the kindergarten field trip to the apple orchard, even though I wasn't anywhere close to being a parent.  And, yes...I did note that a couple of the parent volunteers looked at me as if I had no right to be there!  Some parents could be jerky, I have to admit.  But you know, one of the kids was my nephew, and Ms. Zaky assigned him and another boy under my care, so it was great to know that the teachers trusted me enough to watch over the kids.

And guess what?  None of the kids died under my watch!  We may have gotten a bit distracted by a maze that looked like it was built with giant marshmallows, but other than that, it was a really fun experience!

Really, that whole volunteer experience was amazing because I felt like I was serving a purpose.  Sure, I wasn't getting paid actual money for my services, but I was learning how to be more mature, more responsible, and I definitely think that I made an impact on those kids.

And do you know how I know this?  Well, in January 2004, I had gotten accepted into a job seeking program (where it was sort of like a paid internship), and I had to leave my volunteer position for a little while.  It was really sad to say goodbye to the kids, but I promised them that I would be back before the end of the year to say goodbye to them.

And, as it turned out, I did come back for the last two weeks of school - and to see their little faces beam with excitement and have them know who I was...there's no feeling like it.

You know, I briefly thought about pursuing a career in early childhood education after that volunteer stint.  But thinking about it, I don't know if it would have worked out.  I don't like the politics of the education system here in my province, and I am fairly mouthy and stubborn.  I guess I'm one of those who would want to teach for the children's sake, and not use them as bargaining chips.  That's why my becoming a teacher would probably have not worked out.

Though at least I know that I am good with kids.  And while I'm not a parent yet...I know if it is in the cards, I'd probably survive it.

2003 was a year in which I learned a lot about life through volunteer work.  2004 would be a year in which I learned a lot about life through actual paid work - and it may explain why I have a bit of an issue with the education system - at least when it comes to early childhood education, anyway. 

Of course, you will have to wait until Wednesday for that story.  

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