By Rob Selesky
I remember sitting down with Audrey in the LIFT room. It was early January, cold, but unusually rainy. Around town, lots of folks were still shaking off the rust, rubbing the sleepy eyes that the end of a holiday break brings about. Here, with comfy chairs thoughtfully arranged, and a small billiards table ready for action, I was greeted by Corrie, Emily, and Alana (LIFT's terrific trio of programming Staff) with excited, welcoming smiles as they put the finishing touches on organizing that day's activity.
After just a few introductions and getting myself acquainted with my surroundings, I could tell this was a special group and place to be a part of. The dismissal bell would ring in a few minutes, bringing students running from class to LIFT. In the coming weeks, I would do the same as a volunteer.
When I talked with Audrey that day, she asked if I had any experience working with middle school kids. I paused to think. Admittingly, I hadn’t much. Some of my best friends are educators, so I knew what their day-to-day was like at the elementary and high school levels. My own niece and nephew are pre-K toddlers. When it came to middle schoolers, I realized I hadn’t spent much time with them in recent memory.
I somewhat sheepishly laughed, replying, “Well, I was a middle schooler once. That counts for something, right,”? While said in jest, I didn’t know just how honest and powerful my response would prove to be.
Because we all have been in those shoes, maybe in a different time, under different circumstances, but if we allow ourselves the opportunity, we can remember what it’s like finding our way as young people. Even when that means reliving fashion choices, we probably wouldn’t repeat or remember a particularly painful stubbed toe, literal or otherwise. When we can meet anyone where they are, it’s a foundational step toward connection, growth, and enrichment for all involved. That is what LIFT has meant to me.
Fast forward to this summer, with the first half (and change) of 2023 in the rear-view mirror, volunteering with LIFT has been the most rewarding part of my year without question. I’ve been privileged to see the exemplary talent our community is made up of on display. In just six months, I’ve seen kids develop and then hone their innate skills and abilities. I’ve seen bravery as new challenges are taken on, learning that it’s okay to be a beginner at something. I’ve seen kids take inventory of their feelings, name those feelings, and then speak them aloud, regaining some of the power that difficult times and situations can take away. I’ve seen good days made great and bad days made better. All because of the kindness, understanding, structure, support, patience, and laughter found at LIFT.
Even on the days that my fires burned low when the easier thing would have been to let the snow or cold or that long-standing to-do list make me second-guess my priorities, I was always glad and grateful to be present as a volunteer at Middle School Programming. At times I laughed so hard that tears ran down my face. I’ve gotten to know staff, students, and community members I otherwise wouldn’t have. And just as I have learned how to play the Taco-Cat-Goat-Cheese-Pizza card game, I’m hopeful I’ve provided some mentorship along the way.
So some takeaways from a new volunteer at LIFT; the most important thing we can do is show up. It doesn’t have to be our best every time. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But to be present, listen, see, and meet our kids where they are at… That’s what counts.
If we can be curious, not judge; if we can listen, not dictate, I think we find all kinds of possibilities for growth. When we demonstrate that and make it the standard instead of the exception, that’s what can help lift our kids to be the best they can be. That’s what I’ve found at LIFT as a new volunteer. A call to be my best and to help others be theirs.
Stay tuned for future volunteer opportunities on our page. Follow the link here to learn more about volunteering and join us in making a difference in the lives of the youth in the community.