Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Break Offers Lasting Lessons

This article by Stacy Chandler appeared in the May 17 edition of the News & Observer's Thumbs Up section.

While many of her classmates were looking forward to getting a tan on spring break, Kim Geiger was eager to get something else during her time off from school: perspective.

With about 40 fellow members of the Leaders Club from YMCAs across the Triangle, she traveled to Washington, D.C., for a volunteer mission to help that city's hungry and homeless.

Feeding Others
The volunteers packed meals and toiletries and served dinners, but their work went beyond handouts. They also engaged with the people they helped, sitting down for one-on-one conversations that helped pass the time but also told the stories of lives gone off-course.

YMCA Spring Break
 "Over my trip I learned that these people grew up maybe not just like I did, but similar, and one bad choice and they ended up like this," Kim, 16, said a couple weeks after returning to her home in Cary. "So I learned that these people were not any less of a human than I was, and I really appreciated that fact by the time I was heading home."

The Leaders Club students worked hard during their trip, but Kim said the hardest part of their mission was when the work was over. 

"The hardest part was walking away," she said. "We would be doing something that was really beneficial and really making a person happy, and then the activity was over and they would go back to being on the streets, not knowing when their next meal would be."

One night, she added, the volunteers cooked dinner for a group of homeless people.

"When we walked home that night, back to our hostel," she said, "we saw some of the people who had eaten dinner with us still with their nametags on, sleeping on benches."
Heartwrenching as that scene was for Kim, she knows she gained as much from the trip as the people she was able to help.

"I feel that if I'm helping another person and helping to benefit another one's life, I've done something with my life that's meaningful," she said.

The YMCA of the Triangle's Leaders Club provides middle and high school students with opportunities to receive leadership training that enhances personal growth while teaching the importance of social responsibility and service to others. Click here to learn more.

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