A League of their Own

The word impact can easily be used to describe this week’s volunteer organization.  It is an organization that positively impacts the lives of urban residents and others by providing a wide array of programs and services.  For the last 80 years, the Fort Wayne Urban League has helped thousands of people reach their potential while achieving self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.  According to the website, the Urban League works to fulfill its mission by providing programs that meet the contemporary needs of the community.  They offer educational and youth programs, employment and career training programs, and economic development programs to name a few.  We had the opportunity this week to volunteer in the youth program.

Our volunteer experience took us the beautiful Urban League facility located on Hanna Street in Fort Wayne.  Our project for the day was to volunteer in Ms. B’s elementary class.  The program offered for the elementary children consists of an educational element in the morning followed with free time in the afternoon.  So many summer youth programs fail to provide children with educational content.  This was clearly not the case at the Urban League.  We started our morning in the computer lab.  There were only about 13 children in the class on this particular day.  Ms. B informed us that most days she has 20 to 25.  The time in the computer lab gave the children the opportunity to play educational games focused on math and reading.  Many of the boys played the sports game which allowed them to play basketball, baseball, and football after answering math questions.  They were very engrossed in playing the games and they were learning at the same time.  It was hard to engage with the children as they were very quiet while in the computer lab.  I am not sure if it was not wanting to talk with me, not wanting my help, or just too involved in the games.  Their engagement with me would soon change.

After the computer lab, we went outside for a short “recess” where a game of dodge ball began.  After watching and officiating the first game, I decided to jump in and play with them.  I quickly learned that it was going to be me versus them. The first game of dodge ball featured me dancing around trying to avoid getting hit.  I hurled balls that hit them, eliminating them one by one until I was victorious.  Ms. B then informed us that it was time to go back inside.  This brought groans to group of youngsters and they begged for one more game.  They wanted another chance to redeem themselves with the hopes of beating this old man.  Ms B. agreed to allow one more game.  It was a game that I lost very quickly by getting hit in the chest with the ball.  The students smiled, laughed, and worked together during that game.  My relationship with these students instantly changed after our games.  They were more open in their conversation and their level of engagement with me as a volunteer.  We all can learn from my experience.  It just takes a few minutes to make an impact on a child.  Take time to play a game, read a book, or just talk to them and you will create positive memories.

After our recess, we went back into a classroom where the students were asked to write 5 sentences about how they spent the Fourth of July holiday.  They focused on writing complete sentences with correct grammar and pronunciation.  I took time to write a few sentences as well in an effort to get the boys to participate.  To my surprise, many of them wrote good sentences and were anxious for me to read them.  Ms. B read many of the papers out loud and we applauded each students work.   The students then worked on some reading worksheets and played an educational game together.

We enjoyed our time with the Fort Wayne Urban League.  It was evident that they were happy to have us a volunteers on that day.  Ms B was very appreciative of our help and mentioned the need for more full-time volunteers.  It was obvious that she struggled to keep order in the classroom.  She only had about half of her class that day so we can imagine how tough it is for her when all of the students are present.  Ms. B has been teaching children for almost 50 years.  She has spent time in the public school system in addition to the Urban League.  It was evident that she is very passionate about her job as teacher.  Though frustrated at times, she mentioned that there is nothing better than seeing students, especially the most disruptive, improve in the classroom.  It’s a fire and passion like this that makes a difference in our schools and our community.

The Fort Wayne Urban League provides many resources for a very diverse group of people.  The work they do truly does enrich the lives of many individuals allowing them to reach personal goals.  We encourage everyone to visit www.fwurbanleague.org and see how you can get involved.  There are not too many organizations that can make an impact as great as the Urban League.  Their commitment to community truly puts them in a league of their own.

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