After opening a colorfully decorated door to a small classroom, I was greeted by small, smiling faces. The class of eight was putting on their coats and hats to go to the playground. I followed the line of swiftly moving two-year-olds outside. When we arrived, they were eager to play with me. I pushed them on the see-saw; they practiced their hula-hooping skills and went down the slides as many times as possible in a 45-minute period. They were excited to see an unfamiliar face and eager to be loved by a new friend.
Porter Leath has several programs throughout Shelby County, including early head start, head start and preschool. They offer their programs completely free of charge to children of families in low-income brackets. All programs are based on educational fundamentals and structured in order for children to receive quality development and school readiness. Porter Leath also works with children’s families to obtain goals and assure that the child continues to receive a high standard of education.
After learning about Porter Leath’s free of charge policy, I was impressed to find that the education and structure of the program appeared to be equal, if not better, than any costly preschool or head start program I ever attended. The children have structured meal times and schedules for various forms of education presented each day. I had the opportunity to volunteer at one of Porter Leath’s early head start schools, which services children from birth to age two. I assisted a class of eight two-year-olds. Each class is allowed no more than eight children. With only eight children, the teachers can provide more attention to each student and classroom space is more useful with less children.
The staff was very welcoming and grateful for my help. As I assisted the children with their lunch and read a few books to them, I quickly noticed that what they enjoyed most was my attention and affection for them. I enjoyed showing them affection as much as they liked receiving it from me. The kids took turns sitting in my lap throughout the day and were not reluctant to come up to me to ask for help. I found that the time passed by very quickly. When the day was nearing an end, I felt that I had barely enough time to get to know the kids. Several children hugged me as I was leaving; at that moment, I was sure I would have to come back and visit them. I was sad to leave. I hoped that I would make time to return and play with them again, and wondered how I would build a relationship with them if I didn’t. I became attached to the toddlers I spent time with after just a couple of hours. They were easy to love because they loved and trusted me so quickly.
I couldn’t help but notice one little girl in the class with special needs; she was missing a thumb on both of her hands. Although her needs made a few activities difficult for her, she seemed just as joyful as the rest of the children. She came up to me several times with no words–only a smile and a hug. My heart went out to her because she brought joy to others when she needed it the most. Without Porter Leath, children like her might not have the opportunity to receive extra attention or care. All she wants is to be loved, and she receives that when she goes to school every day.
I definitely have intentions of returning to Porter Leath to build real relationships with the children I spent time with, and hope to meet other children in the program. This volunteer experience was enjoyable all around, as a result of working in an organized environment, having the company of a great staff and being around the entertaining children I had the opportunity to spend time with. Porter Leath appreciates volunteers for the many services they render to the communities of Shelby County, and they welcome any newcomers willing to help or donate to their cause.
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