Volunteering at 826LA: Golden Details and 4 Life Lessons

This morning I woke up in the dark, at 7:15 am to put on kinda fancy clothes. The fancy clothes were so that I didn’t look like a 16-year-old amid the group of high school students I was scheduled to hang out with during my very first 826LA workshop. The twenty-minute drive was filled with nervous excitement interspersed with loud singing consisting of half-mumbled lyrics.

I arrived excited and ready to meet the high schoolers. While waiting for their bus to arrive, I met the other two volunteers (a Writer and a dancer), and the person running the workshop. We chatted about the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having.

I explored their luxuriously bathroom, with its enormous, opaque, foggy windows that opened at the top. There’s enough space to hold a multiple-person dance party in there! Then I explored their bookshelf.

1. There is good stuff that’s already created that you can use.

Like this book, by Dave Eggers and other 826 people. We did the lesson called “Details (Golden), Character (Immortal) and Setting (Rural India)” and it was awesome. The 40 students got into it, the two teachers liked it, the two volunteers and I had fun, and the writing that came out was great!

I won’t give away the whole lesson plan, but my favorite part was when the students were talking about a descriptive sentence that involved a woman with large teeth rhythmically tapping her tooth while watching a man fumble with the change in his man purse. The two tables I got to hang out with were coming up with all sorts of back stories for this: that they were at a restaurant and she was worried that he didn’t have enough money to pay for dinner, that they were waiting for a bus and didn’t have the right change, that he was cheating and had a man purse to hide the gifts for his other partner, that she had stolen his money and he was scrambling inside the purse trying to find it. They were so creative! And funny. And clever. There were so many stories coming out of just that one strong sentence.

High school kids, man. They just kill it.

2. Young people are great everywhere.

My first full-time job was working as a summer camp counselor. Every week or two, I’d get a new group of kids to hang out with and would be continuously surprised at my luck. I got the awesome group every time! I tried to not be too boastful around my colleagues, but they didn’t seem to be complaining about their campers either. Then, when I was teaching in Everett,  all my students were such characters, had interesting lives, had things to say and share. I thought I had gotten the good ones every time. But it’s not like that at all!

They are just all that great. I’ve never been in a room of young people and found them boring.

It’s an adrenaline rush being around them! So many identities being tried on and ironed out, so many nuanced friendships and raw emotions, so much to prove and share and experience. I know, this is the part where I should give up and give in, and thank the universe for respecting my desire to do something other than teaching. I am stubborn. I know that I love it, but it’s just not right yet.

So I left 826LA with this high, this floating on a cloud, grinning like a creeper feeling after volunteering at the workshop.

3. Just when you think you’re in the clear, the unexpected approaches.

In high school, I took a tedious driver’s ed class where we watched videos and read from a book. The only exciting part I remember involved hearing how people describe car accidents in front of a judge. “The street lamp approached” was my favorite. Well, let me tell you: today, the pole approached.

4. That’s still OK.

Although I had looked behind me when backing up, I hadn’t looked carefully enough because the pole approached. It didn’t just approach, it got real close and personal with the bumper. Right in front of the bus of high school students I had been working with for the past two hours! But, not a single one laughed. I got out to check out the car, got back in, and drove off. It’s OK. I’m OK. The car just needs some paint.

I have an unabashed conviction in everything turning out in the end. Not immediately, not on some certain timeline, but things do work out. If they haven’t worked out, it’s not the end.

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3 thoughts on “Volunteering at 826LA: Golden Details and 4 Life Lessons

  1. Pingback: Hurricane Sandy & Being Far From Home « Ksenia DV

  2. Pingback: How to Like Your Job Or Be a Better Manager: Book Review of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job | Ksenia DV

  3. Pingback: 826LA’s Greater Los Angeles Personal Statement Weekend | Ksenia DV

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