Making a Difference, One Child at a Time

At Hands On Charlotte’s volunteer project, Study Buddies – South Charlotte, kids get to practice their reading skills, they get helped with homework, and they also make connections with others so that they feel supported and empowered to succeed. Learning Help Centers of Charlotte provides one-on-one support for kids in Title 1 schools as well as a place where the kids can make friends with others who share a passion for learning.

Each week, the students begin the evening outside playing soccer and other games, and then they come together inside for a group activity and snack. Volunteers at this project are then paired up with one kid and together they work on homework or reading improvement. One regular volunteer at the project, Gray Davis, says “It is rewarding to see kids have the ‘aha’ moment when they get something that they have been trying to learn.” Gray admits that at first he was reluctant to sign-up for a tutoring project, but now he says “Volunteers should not let their lack of experience with tutoring kids keep them from trying this.”

Each week, regular volunteers are matched up with the same students if possible, which helps the two to work together better. This program strives to make a difference in kids’ academic lives, but it is also about mentoring and connecting with the students. Everyone has something to offer, even if it has been many years since they were in school.

Photo from: http://www.lhcclt.org/

Volunteer Experience: Racing to the Alligator Mouth

You never quite know what to expect when you volunteer to mountain bike with kids. Some of the kids take right to the experience and tear off into the trees. Other kids are more reserved and will take some time to get comfortable. When you factor in all of the rain we got the week before and that Saturday morning of the event a little more than a week ago, I went into this opportunity with a lot of apprehension.  But, even with all of the rain and questions about the weather, I should have remembered, kids always find a way to surprise you.

Every Saturday morning Trips for Kids Charlotte (TFKC) Ride Program provides mentored mountain biking for children. It’s an amazing organization that manages all of the group’s transportation (with the help of some dynamic teachers), all of the bikes and runs the whole experience beautifully. The kids come to the organization from existing community-based organizations that work with 10-15 year-olds from Charlotte’s disadvantaged neighborhoods.

There were nine fifth graders that rode with us Saturday morning and none of the nine had trouble hitting their strides. Tyra, the only girl, was no exception. She was shooting around corners and through puddles with a purpose – a girl on a mission to show that she could hang with any of the boys. In fact, the whole group was very fast-paced. There was only one time they had to stop, and that was when we got to the “Alligator Mouth.”

The “Alligator Mouth” is a small ramp that sends kids down into a little ditch and shoots them up a small jump on the other side. The entire dip is only about 2 seconds deep, but it can be a little intimidating for a group of fifth graders, and it never fails. Whenever we first get to the “Alligator,” all of the groups take a minute to gather their courage and collect their thoughts. Good luck telling Tyra that! She had challenged the boys throughout the whole ride, but this was where she would really shine.

As the boys stood on and watched, Tyra raced right through the middle. She shot down the hill and out the other side with a smile from ear to ear.  The boys watched on with jaws dropped and mouths wide open while the rest of us just laughed. It takes one girl to show eight boys how it’s done.  As Tyra glowed with compliments from everyone, the last we heard of the boys was their bikes crashing together as they raced be the next into the  “Alligator Mouth”.

It’s days like that Saturday that keep me coming back– watching all of the smiles (and mud) on the faces of all the kids; watching, as a typically shy or reserved little girl gets a window to shine. This particular Saturday brought out the best in several people. Lance (one of the TFKC volunteers) hit the nail on the head when he turned to me, after Tyra and the boys ran through “Alligator Mouth” a second time, and said “people can sit at home and watch all the news about all of the bad stuff in the world they want. I will keep riding here and finding all of the good. “

Thanks for making my week, Tyra, and don’t beat up on the boys too badly — our egos can be very fragile.

Sean Leto
sean@handsoncharlotte.org