Before even looking at Marist as a potential college candidate, I knew that I was interested in keeping up with the community service I had been doing in high school. Unlike other schools, my school never forced us to participate in any kind of community service, and hardly even encouraged it. That’s part of the reason why I was so happy to find Marist: a school interested in giving back to the community and keeping a good reputation about it.
When I first came here I knew that there was a big focus on community service, but I wasn’t really sure about how I should get involved. I was late to the initial activity fair, so I missed a lot of the booths that had volunteering opportunities, but I decided to join Marist Campus Ministry, despite not being religious, because I had heard a lot about their weekly community service program. This was one of the best decisions I have made all semester.
I chose to work at the Catherine Street Community Center, and even though it was only a five-minute van ride from campus, it felt like a world away. It’s a place where the local kids from schools all over Poughkeepsie come and do their homework, and even play a little. But there were so many rules, and I couldn’t imagine that the kids could have any fun there. Yet, they did, and so did I.
The first of my two hours there was always devoted to helping the kids do their homework (after a quick snack time, of course). I was no stranger to helping younger kids with homework. I have two brothers eight years younger than me, and helped them all throughout elementary school, had been a Spanish tutor for three years with elementary students, and we did more than enough homework there, plus, I had helped in a first grade classroom, and knew how to grade and assess little kid’s homework, but none of this had prepared me for Catherine Street.
The kids were a lot better at many academic aspects than I could have hoped for, but socially, they were like anything I had ever seen. They could all read, write, and solve math problems without a problem, but getting them focused was nearly impossible some days. They would be upset because another child was saying disparaging things about another, or because someone in their family had been shot, or because they knew that if they didn’t finish their work at Catherine Street, there would be problems at home. I had never been in a situation like this, so I had to think creatively to keep them from all stressing out. I would let them talk out their problems first, and try and proactively solve any that I could. Sometimes I would help them express what they were feeling in their work, or simply read with them if they needed to cool down a little bit. Sometimes I would get frustrated or stressed out because of everything that was happening there, but it always felt good to know that I had made a difference.
And that’s really why I did it all along. I wanted to improve the lives of these kids in anyway that I could, and I discovered how important that was to me during my recent reflection time. It’s hard to sum up all of my experiences at Catherine Street in so few words, even though I only went there once a week for two hours. I cannot wait to get involved in more community oriented projects here at Marist, and I am excited to renew my commitment to community service next semester.
– Jennie Schmaler