This post comes to us from Emily Collins, a Program Coordinator for our Children’s Education & Development Department. She manages a diverse set of children’s programming at multiple sites, one of which is Ella Flagg Young School.
Working for a nonprofit is work…a lot of work. Most people who ask what I do think it’s endless games, projects, and activities that make you feel good – and sometimes, that’s true. I also know that working for a nonprofit is long hours, endless dedication, and constant adaptability and creativity. Sometimes the job is overwhelming, sometimes it feels thankless, and sometimes it feels like I can do nothing right….and then sometimes it’s exactly what I am looking for.
Being in the office every day is hard work and I sometimes find myself forgetting why I am there. This past Saturday, however, I was once again reminded why I spend so many hours each week working in the office: to touch someone else’s life. I was the leader for Healthy Start at Young, one of six Chicago Cares programs that I coordinate at the school. I admit that I lacked motivation to get out of bed and head to a project early Saturday morning, but my love for working with children, as well as cooking, gave me push I needed to get up and drive to Young School.
One foot in the door, my whole outlook changed. I was first welcomed by Selena and Ashley, excited and inspired middle-school students ready to participate in Students on Stage with Andrew. Ms. Wilson brought Danaya and Darrell to build their reading skills at Read-with-Me while she volunteered at Healthy Start. Michelle and Samantha were ready to start experimenting with Abbey at Math + Science Club, and one of our most dedicated students, Rashae, arrived at Young with a big smile, ready to once again bet me about his like or dislike of our Healthy Start recipe. Rashae was here, ready to learn as always, and excited to make healthier decisions about his young life. I instantly felt like the Grinch and my small heart grew three sizes that instant.
I must admit that I have a slight bias: I love to cook and I studied nutrition and health education in college. Anyone interested in participating in Healthy Start excites me and instantly finds a place in my heart. Rashae, however, holds a particularly special place. I once won a bet against him that he would actually enjoy a burrito made with black beans and whole wheat tortillas. By making a fresh salsa, Rashae learned that grocery store items can be made healthier and tastier. This week, I showed him that squash (ew!) isn’t something scary and foreign but tasty and tricky; case in point: spaghetti squash. Rashae returns each time to Healthy Start resistant to eating healthy, yet each week beams with pride as he carefully packs up some of his food to bring home to his Grandma. (I also know, although he won’t always admit it, that he really likes the food.) Five minutes with him makes me remember why I work at Chicago Cares every day: I love working with kids and inspiring them to be their best selves.
I will not solve world peace. I will not end poverty or inequality. I cannot house all those who are homeless. But I can inspire a student to live a healthier lifestyle and make better choices. I can be a stable, positive presence in one child’s life. I can encourage others to volunteer. I can make a difference.