Volunteer!

Thursday, April 3, 2014


When I first put this on my 25 at 25 list, I was expecting to do a one-time gig. I looked up various weekend projects and kept putting off signing up for anything. I figured I'd eventually get to it before the end of July. Then in December my friend Camille told me she volunteered at the Metro Achievement Center, and I told her I was interested in hearing more. She put me in touch with the program director, and an orientation, interview and background check later, I was in. But suddenly I was apprehensive about taking it on.

Metro (part of the Midtown Educational Foundation) is a supplementary after-school mentoring program for girls. It fosters academic growth, character development, fine arts and wellness. Each mentor (my role) is assigned to a student, which she tutors and mentors once a week. This video shows how important this program is to Chicago.

After being accepted, I selfishly came up with a handful of excuses as to why I couldn't take it on. MEF programs are inspired by the Catholic Church and Opus Dei. There's a chapel in the building. I'm not Catholic. The center's 50 minutes from my apartment. I'd have to leave work right at 5, what if I'm on deadline? I can't teach. I don't understand kids. I already have a commitment on Tuesday and most Thursdays, I don't have time for this even if I wanted to do it.

Still, part of me couldn't turn down the opportunity (looking back I'm so embarrassed at the excuses). So in January I started. I met my student, Giselle, and in the past few months she has taught me so much. I look forward to seeing her every Monday. Seeing her work so hard to raise her grades and the pride in her voice when she raises them is so rewarding. Every time she leaves she says, "Bye Miss Ladan, thank you," and I just die. I've loved learning more about her, her family, what it's like to be a fifth grader in a public school system with so much pressure to test into better schools and raise standardized test scores.

We're essentially learning fifth-grade math together, and while Giselle doesn't like writing and we're faking it until we make it on that end, I've really liked sharing my passion for it with her. She asks me how old I am constantly. Some weeks she thinks I'm 16. Other weeks she thinks I'm 30. She's such a beautiful girl, inside and out, and I feel so lucky to share one afternoon a week with her.

I'm really glad I decided to do this, and I look forward to getting to know Giselle even better. Best 25 and 25 decision yet.

(Graphic design by Lauren Hayes for Make the Most)

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Want to get in touch with me immediately? Email me: ladan.nikravan@gmail.com