Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 7:50 PM on Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Community service impacts volunteer and others

The USCGC Hickory sponsors a $1,000 scholarship essay competition open to graduating high school students in the Homer area. This year's essay was to explain the importance of lifelong community service and how the essay writers' strengths and weaknesses affect the organization(s) with which they volunteer. Homer High School senior Elizabeth Needham wrote this year's winning essay.


Elizabeth Needham

Every Thursday was a war. One I was afraid to lose, but also was incapable of winning; or so I thought. This battle was not what most might think, where guns and bombs are used, but a battle in myself. Victory seemed completely unachieveable, but in the end I reached it, and that win was better than any I could have on a basketball court or soccer field.

For most of my junior year, I would dread waking up on Thursday morning. I did not look forward to walking through the doors of Paul Banks Elementary School, where I volunteered in a first grade class. I felt it to be a waste of my time; I could sleep or do homework during that time instead of sitting next to children as they read out loud to me. I was impatient with the children, and eager to return to my own classes. I didn't feel like the children or I were getting anything out of my help; I felt useless.

Then one Thursday I entered the classroom, unexcited as usual, and was given a new assignment. I was to work with the two children who were labeled "special education." I had never given any thought to this title before, other than assuming that they were taught differently. It was difficult to work with them at first, but then as I grew to know them and understand them, I also began to understand the term "special education" much better. These children truly are special. They are amazing children with huge, loving hearts.

On one occasion, the little girl I worked with spouted out, "You are my best friend." I was taken aback by her proclamation. She seemed so sincere about it. Right then, a white flag flew in my battle. My impatience, my dread of Thursdays surrendered. There are no words to describe how amazing it felt to hear those few words. Right then I knew I was there for more than helping the children read. I was there to be their friend and to reach out to the children who needed it the most.

While in that classroom, I was assigned a little sister by the teacher. I was not a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, but I was able to get to know that child and be someone for her to look up to. She broke my heart. She was so sweet, but she seemed to hurt and broken. I will never know why that is, or what caused her sadness, but I do know that when I walked in the classroom and she saw me, her face lit up like a Christmas tree. She had a strong affect on me. I had never had anyone see me as a role model, and it felt amazing. I began to wake up excited every Thursday to see this little girl and help her with her reading. I wanted to go Paul Banks, when before it was a struggle.

None of my other community service can ever be compared to volunteering in that classroom. I've cleaned up garbage around town before, I've helped with food and clothes drives and many, many fundraisers for charities. Each one of these reaches out and helps people in my community and all across the world, but none have reflected back to me and made me a better person. It was awesome to be able to raise money to send to the Haiti earthquake victims. I knew that, even in a small way, I was helping, but I never got to see that money be put to use. I don't know if it bought medicine, food or clothing.

When I worked in Paul Banks, I got to see my time be used to help children. Not only did I help their reading to improve, but I also got to help them grow into the amazing children they are becoming. Although community service is often thought of as helping others, the children whose classroom I volunteered in truly helped me. They made me a better person; one who is able to understand a person better and to see where their true needs like, whether it is in reading or in friendship.

Elizabeth's interests include sports, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, music, helping children, cooking, baking and trying new things. Her favorite subjects are math and science. She is considering studying in the medical field when she attends Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, Wash., next fall. She will be 1 of 7 Homer High School students at Pacific Lutheran