I stood before the door, shivering, and knocked. A pause. "Is anyone home?" I bellowed at the top of my voice, the fog rising from my lips. Yet even the bleak and chilly winter afternoon could not dampen my enthusiasm, which paralleled by my distant feelings of apprehension, as this was the moment I had been waiting for, for an entire month. The air was as still as I was, in anticipation of an answer from inside the house. Today was my first birthday party as a volunteer for Hospice, an organization whose mission is to make sure everyone lives each day with meaning and purpose. The door cracked open and the wrinkled, pale hands of a woman beckoned my group in. At first, I noticed the pungent odor that hung around the house and the numerous cat hairs littered on the woolly floor. In the dimly lit room, I could slowly discern the face of an old fragile woman, wearing a floral shirt, sitting sternly in an ancient armchair. The other teens and I introduced ourselves and, we started to sing "Happy Birthday." Immediately I noticed something different-tears sprang to the woman's eyes. At the end of the party, the social worker asked me, "Would you like to help Angela regain her voice and learn English by coming to her therapy sessions once a week?"
I had shied away from many difficult thing before in my life, why couldn't I once again? Yet this felt different.
When I became a Hospice volunteer, I came in with the intention of wanting to help others; however, so far my only interaction had been with the inanimate: papers and photos, filing and scanning. These tasks were within my comfort zone, but now an opportunity to interact with a patient and to actually make a difference had presented itself. The decision was difficult, but in the end I decided to give up the comfort of before, in order to gain patient experience.
Apprehensive yet hopeful, I began the therapy sessions with Angela, slowly working through the alphabet and words like "cat" and "dog". In return, Angela shared with me stories about her youth. Angela used to be the princesses of Albania. However, she was forced to flee the country when the communists overthrew the government and her family became political prisoners.
One day during our lesson, she slowly turned to me with tears in her eyes, in a shaky voice, and said "Thank you." I realized that it wasn't my help that brought pleasure to Angela's day, but rather my presence and care. I felt empowered; my reluctance to help was replaced with genuine interest in Angela and true desire to help with the therapy. I started to become less fixated on the odor of the house or the cat hairs on the carpet, began to enjoy my visits to Angela's house, and understood the change in Angela's eyes.
College is at my doorstep now and for a while I felt well prepared for the challenges it offers, both academically and socially. Now I realize that there is a vast world that I have yet to explore and college has taken a new meaning for me. It is no longer solely an institution of education; rather it has become a place where I hope to explore life and gain valuable experience that I will continue to use. I have continued to visit Angela on a regular basis and have formed a strong connection with her akin to a grandmother and grandson. My volunteer work with Hospice has inspired me to look ahead and find ways to make my academic interests work together with my love of helping others.
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