Over W&L’s spring break, 14 Bonner Scholars traveled to Big Ugly, W. Va. to work with the non-profit Step by Step in Big Ugly and Charleston, W.Va. Check out the students’ reflections about the trip and photos below.
The first-year Bonners spent time working with an afterschool program at South Park, a low-income housing complex in Charleston W.Va. They had the chance to help the kids with their schoolwork and to spend time playing with them and building relationships. Throughout the week they handpicked books for each of the kids in the program and wrote a letter to them telling them about their own favorite books and why reading is so important. On our last day with the kids, the Bonners had the chance to deliver the books.
“My favorite memory was when we gave away the books to the kids at South Park. Many, if not all of these kids, did not have their own books at home, and although it seemed to be something small to us, it was huge to them. They started naming the order of their favorites, and instantly showed them off to everyone. Also, the kids brought their books to the playground and read while playing. They just didn’t want to put them down!” (Meredith Roberts, ’14)
“The first day we spent at South Park tutoring, I met J* and B*, two fourth grade girls. I tutored them and then played with them outside for an hour or so, teaching them to swing dance. They in turn taight me how to hip hop dance. We then spent a few hours collecting and handpicking books for the children we had been tutoring, so I picked out half a dozen or so books for J and B. After giving them the books, I found out J had never owned a book before. They ran outside, but instead of playing, they read their new books on the playground. It made all our work completely worth it.” (Jenny Bulley, ’14)
“I really loved hanging out with J* at South Park. It’s hard to pick one highlight from our trip, but it was super adorable seeing her face light up when she got her pile of books and read my letter. It was also really awesome to see how excited she was to read them. After she did her homework, we just sat outside and read all the books. She’s really smart, so I tried to pick books that would challenge her, and it’s cool to know that she is interested in them and actually wants to read them.” (Josy Tarantini, ’15)
“Although working with kids is not usually my favorite volunteer activity, A* at South Park was great to work with. She came right up to me the first day and asked if I would help her, and every day she would finish her homework with me even if kids around her weren’t cooperating. She gave me a huge hug on the last day and was genuinely appreciative of everything the volunteers did for her.” (Kate LeMasters, ’15)
One of the group’s activities that week was helping to clean-up the Big Ugly Creek and to build rock jetties to divert the river during floods. (The community has been hard hit in recent years with destructive floods that have shut-down roads, flooded basements, and even washed away a couple homes.) This was a great opportunity for the students to get to meet some local community members.
“My favorite memory was of the last day at Big Ugly with D*. I enjoyed speaking with her and hearing her life story from her life in Big Ugly. I also feel like that was a productive time in our trip, as well, in helping community members. (David Thomas, ’15)
“Most of the time it is quite easy to forget about how others live when you are so focused on your own life and experiences (especially around exam time). However, getting to help and play with the kids in Big Ugly was a great eye opener for me, and it was a lot of fun. While being a Bonner is wonderful, I go through the motion of volunteering so frequently that sometimes I find myself forgetting why I love it so much. However, working with those kids really made me remember what volunteering is all about! Being able to get M* to talk to me and help him with his homework, and singing with M* really made me happy, and hopefully made them happy too. Although our actions sometimes seem very small, it’s important to realize that even the smallest actions have the biggest impact, and that our time volunteering constantly helps change the lives of others.”
*Names have been left out.