by Kelsey Marquez
Volunteering at Garden Hills has been an unforgettable experience. When I first came to the University of Illinois, I felt disconnected. Disconnected from my culture. Disconnected from traditions. Disconnected from myself. It’s no secret that this is a predominately Caucasian campus. So when I first arrived, I was welcomed by a culture shock, but thank to Spanish, that all changed.
After taking SPAN 232, I have been able to reconnect with myself. At Garden Hills, I felt at home. Week after week a room of excited little faces welcomed me. These children remind me of myself, they look like me and talk like me. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge promoter of diversity, but it felt great to get involved with a Spanish community that reminded me of my own. Finding this community was like finding a grain of salt in a pile of sand. I was too preoccupied with the campus community that I had never been able to explore the horizons beyond campus.
I have grown to care a lot for these kids. I always look forward to helping them with whatever I can. But not only do I care for them, they care for me too. When I sat with them while they drew and colored they said, “Tu también puedes dibujar con nosotros.” The moment I heard this, all my volunteering had meant so much more.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend too much time with these kids due to holidays or weather issues that caused class to be canceled. I would be a few hours short of the 28 that I needed. So instead of looking for opportunities elsewhere, I looked for ways that I would still be able to contribute to the class.
At first, I manually created English and Spanish notecards for the kids (months, days of the week, colors, and numbers). Then I drew a picture to go along with the cards. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that when I colored the notecards with markers, they would bleed to the other side of the notecard. Therefore, I threw away all the notecards I had and just created them on the computer. It’s okay though; my drawings would have probably confused the kids more than help them. I am so excited to see their adorable little faces when I show them what I have made for them. I am glad to be able to leave them with a part of me. But more importantly, I am happy to be able to leave them with something that they can benefit from even after I leave and to me, that’s the best reward of all.