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By Alex Eikenberry
When I was 14 years old I spent my summer going into high school volunteering in a program called Summer in the City. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to hang out with my best friends everyday while serving the community. Each day we were able to choose whether we would paint murals, play with the children, or plant flowers in gardens. One memory from this experience has stuck with me for a long time due to how impactful it has been on my own development.
Each Friday, the leaders of the program would set up a carnival-themed play area for the kids in downtown Detroit. It was the one day each week that everyone looked forward to; we would eat churros, throw water balloons, and paint faces. I remember it being a hot day in June, with my friends and I excited and energized to spend the day together. Our day always started with a process called “buddying up”, where the kids partnered with a volunteer, so that all the kids were looked after and mentored. My friends and I always looked to buddy up with a group of friends, that way we could spend the day together.
We found our group and were ready to start the day, but unexpectedly, a random kid ran up to me. I was a bit surprised because I usually wasn’t the favorite chaperone or someone the kids actively sought after. I could tell he was somewhat disappointed or upset, so I introduced myself and tried to help him. To my surprise, he immediately opened up about how he felt lonely and was an outcast from all the other kids. Due to the volunteers buddying up with friend groups, he seemed to have been left alone. At that moment I made the decision to leave my friends for the day to spend time with young Carlos.
At 14 years old, I did understand where he was coming from, and I did feel bad, but I was upset that I could not see my friends on our favorite day. But my feelings changed. I ended up spending hours with Carlos playing air hockey, passing the football, and introducing him to other kids. Carlos’s vulnerability and honesty mixed with his excitement and urge for someone to hang out with not only made my day but taught me an important life lesson. Sometimes we get caught up in our own self interest, for me it was spending the day with my friends.
We lose sight of what God has put us all on this earth to do, and that’s to make a positive impact in our community or in someone’s life. This doesn’t necessarily have to be starting a charity or curing cancer, just something small. The more and more you allow the goodness of God to flow through you, the more you will be able to impact someone’s life — and your own! That day I thought I helped Carlos, yet Carlos really helped me. He taught me the importance of kindness and caring for others, even if that means sacrificing your own self interest.