i've decided to begin posting the journal entries that are part of my homework for my social work 200 class. i have to have a certain amount of community service hours for this class, and so i signed up for a mentor position on thursdays with motivate our minds (which they call moms), a tutoring organization here in muncie. it's an awesome setup: kids come in after school to work on homework and other activities that the teachers at moms organize. some pay for it, and others are on scholarship. it's been great so far, if a little challenging. we're required to keep a journal throughout the semester detailing our experiences, so i'll be posting each entry up here. the following is my first entry, though it's a few weeks old. there are some requirements, like detailing how i'm applying what i learn in class to my experience, and what goals i've set and am accomplishing through my experience. hopefully it'll give you a good idea of what my thursdays are like!
Today was my first day at Mentor Our Minds, which they call MOMs. Before going in, I was nervous and excited. After training I felt pretty prepared for what I was supposed to be doing, but it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into until you’re actually there. I was told that there would be all kinds of kids there from all kinds of families and backgrounds, and that some would be very easy to work with, while others would be more challenging. I hoped I wouldn’t have to work with anyone too challenging my first day, but I was definitely excited. The day turned out great. The mentors get there before the kids arrive, so we split up to go to each of the rooms. There are three rooms, for three different age groups. I decided to work with the middle age group, which is for grades four and five. The teacher is Mrs. Rose, and she seems nice enough, if slightly firm.
When the kids finally got there, it was chaotic as they all found their seats and got situated. We gave them a snack and Mrs. Rose told them the schedule for the day, which included things like doing homework assigned in school, painting a replica of van Gogh’s Starry Night and listing twenty adjectives describing it, and working out in the garden. She told us mentors to just wander around and help those who needed help, and generally monitor what was going on. I sat down at a table with two boys, Eric and Elijah. Right away I could tell that they were very different—Eric generally was more open and enjoyed doing his work, whereas Elijah needed more prompting and didn’t really follow through unless I continually checked on him. This is where part of what I learned from class came in; I had to intentionally check myself to make sure I wasn’t making judgments about Elijah’s personality based on the one interaction I’d had with him. After working with him further, I was able to discern a lack of confidence in his own abilities to complete his work. One of the things the kids had to do was create a story about their own Starry Night painting, and Elijah was having a bad attitude about it. He was stubborn about not doing it and kept complaining about how dumb of an assignment it was. However, after I started encouraging him to just write whatever he wanted, as long as it had to do somehow with the painting, he began to really enjoy the process! It was really cool and encouraging to see. I was surprised how in just those short two hours I was able to establish (superficial) friendships with many of the kids. One, Sam, asked eagerly if I would be coming back the following week, and got really excited when I said yes.
Thankfully, with my experience working at a camp this past summer, initiating relationships with the kids isn’t extremely intimidating for me. But, unlike camp, I’m not paired with any specific kids; instead I just wander and help whoever needs it. In this aspect, I am slightly anxious that I might not be able to connect with all of them. However, it does give me an opportunity to know all the kids instead of just a few, and for that I am glad. I’m excited to get to know each of these kids’ personalities and be myself around them, too. So far, I’m really drawing on a lot of the listening and perseverance techniques that we’ve talked about in class, and I think that will definitely continue. The kids want to know that someone will listen to them and not just tell them to be quiet and do their work. Instead of getting frustrated when they have a bad attitude, it usually helps to ask them why they’re acting this way. Even if their attitude doesn’t improve, they know that you care enough to ask.
As far as my expectations for the class go, I’m hoping to be able to look back and say that I’ve done a few things. I want to have established meaningful relationships with all these kids, in such a way that they feel they can trust me and know I care about them. I’m hoping to gain a greater understanding of the need Muncie has for mentors and volunteers, and specific ways others and I can help. I’m also wanting to come away with valuable experience for my desired profession: counseling children. I feel that this area of volunteer work specifically can really provide me with that experience. Finally, I really want to be able to apply the things I learn from class in real-life situations. I’m confident that my work at MOMs will definitely fulfill my expectations. I’m excited for next week!