100 Hours, 100 Smiles: A Volunteer’s Success Story at WITS

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December 3, 2010 by jrwatson5

This semester, as part of an academic program I am in at the University of St. Thomas, I am working on 100 hours of community service and WITS graciously allowed me to volunteer for them. As my school year winds down – or speeds up seeing how many paper assignments I have – and my hours come to a close, I have come to realize that the kids I’ve been working with for the past two months have taught me far more than I could ever have hoped to teach them.

I’ve been working mainly on two projects at WITS. The first is an afterschool program with Community Family Centers at Carillo and Gallegos Elementary Schools. We have about sixty students, and it’s afterschool, and they probably rather go outside to play on the playground, but they rise to the occasion every day. A few weeks ago we created our own postcards on index cards to send to family and friends or as our own keepsake from an imaginary adventure. They made cards for San Antonio and Houston and Mexico and beaches and all over the place. We did not have stamps or addresses to mail them at the time, so most everyone took theirs home. The next week, several ran up to me to say that they had mailed their postcards. Then the week after that, one of the boys told me how his uncle had received the postcard and mailed him a letter back. They took a small lesson on letters and postcards and turned it into something far more real and beautiful. Even many of the kids who resisted writing every day ended up making a postcard, or two, or four.

Just when you think you have it all figured out, they surprise you with their enthusiasm and pure unbridled energy.

Every day, when I walk through the door, someone will run up to me and give me a great big hug. It doesn’t matter that they saw me just two days before, they are just so happy that we are there; their joy causes me to smile even on the cloudiest of days.

I also help out at the Discovery Green workshops on Saturday mornings. Now, I am not at all a morning person, but the opportunity to work with the kids who come out each week is well worth every yawn. Discovery Green is a truly intimate space to work in. Some weeks we had very few young writers come, so it was a very personalized workshop, and other weeks we were able to fill nearly the whole library which made us close in a very different sense of the word. But the level of creativity and talent in that room just astounds me. An hour is not very much time to build a community, write, and then share, but somehow it happens each and every week. We almost never have the exact crowd twice, but many return again and again bringing with them that snippet of story they started a week before now as a fully-fledged piece of art. For me, it is an honor to hear what they have written at the end of the workshop.

I am thankful for my time with WITS this semester. Many of my classmates have grumbled about their service projects, but mine has brought me far more laughter and joy than I deserve. I might have taught a lesson on how to write a postcard, but they have taught me how to draw fantastical creatures, to smile at punctuation, to use stories to solve math homework, to be patient and understanding, to listen to myself and others, to realize that I am not quite grown up yet after all. So while I look forward to the upcoming break from paper writing and class, I will truly miss all the wonderful students and writers that I have come to know through WITS.

By Rebecca Mechler, Junior, University of St. Thomas Houston

2010 Summer Camp Intern, WITS

See more of Rebecca’s journey at WITS on Flickr.

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One thought on “100 Hours, 100 Smiles: A Volunteer’s Success Story at WITS

  1. Jack McBride says:

    Rebecca, what a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm, expertise, and joy with these students each week. It has been a true pleasure to work with you this year. WITS (and I) will definitely miss you!!

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Writers in the Schools (WITS)


Writers in the Schools (WITS) is the #1 arts education organization in Texas. With 80 writers and educators on staff, WITS reaches over 23,000 students a year in classrooms, community centers, museums, parks, and hospitals.

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