Awakening from Cynicism

by Jordan Da Silva

Student Volunteer Facilitator

This is my story, not the story of someone particularly well-travelled or exceptionally wise or well-read but one you may find interesting none the less. This is the story of someone who at the ripe old age of 22 can only be certain of a few things, and one of those things is that we as individuals all have an innate drive to serve others. I know this because I found it within myself, after joining Student Open Circles, an organization that allows in-dividuals to transcend the University bubble and engage the city of Hamilton in all its beauty. The Hamilton who’s beauty is most clearly seen in the eyes of its residents.

My story goes like this; I awoke one day with the sudden realization that I was tired of being cynical about society and the community I lived in. I immediately knew that I had to start to apply my newly forming paradigm to my surroundings and that the only way for me to change my views would be through making a change in myself and my actions.

I vividly remember my first days at Bennetto Elementary School. The realities of this community were at first a stark contrast to my upbringing and a challenge to my understand-ing. Some students would show up to school without having eaten breakfast and a large portion of students were reading well below their grade level. I saw that the teachers and staff were stretched to the limit of their time and resources and were doing their best to have a positive life-changing impact on these students. It was clear however that despite the heroic staff effort, resources were ex-hausted. This was evident in learning about the relatively low rate of children from this neighbourhood that would ultimately end up going on to a post-secondary education.

The need was clear, but how could myself as a McMaster student make any difference? Would reading just once a week with these students who were behind their grade level equivalents, in sessions largely spent sounding out words and counting syllables, really make any difference?

Students in a weekly volunteer group who serve as mentors for at-risk children, joining our 300+ student volunteers who help children and youth, adults living with disabilities, recent immigrants and refugees, and at homeless shelters.

I can recall one day specifically, when all my uncertainties about the impact on this community and on myself was made clear to me. On this particular day I was very tired and stressed from school. I felt like I had a million other things on my mind, an experience I am sure you can relate to. I am not proud to admit this, but I considered calling in sick that day. As I battled my own weakness I even questioned what value my presence held with the school and that it might be best to worry about my more personal concerns. Thankfully, I made the decision to keep my commitment that day. Because as soon as I walked through the doors of Ms. Green’s grade 2 class I knew instantly I had made the right decision. There were these excited kids who all had their books in hand and were energetically anticipating my arrival. It dawned on me in that moment that it was not so much the differ-ence I had made in their reading that counted but the hope, excitement and positivity that I brought with me every week that was being transferred to them and positively impacting their lives.

Student Open Circles gave me the opportunity to have this and many other amazing experiences. I know that I wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to positively impact the Hamilton community and make great strides in my personal growth. Because ultimately, it is not so much the steps we take in life but the direction in which we choose to step that matters, and stepping with Student Open Circles made all the difference for me.