4th Grade Math, Connect Four, and Foot Races: My experience volunteering at CommonBond Communities
Getting involved with the community and escaping from the university bubble is important to a well rounded college education. It makes a student experience people and situations that they would have never experienced. Community involvement creates a better understanding of the world and its people by first hand interaction and contact. In my case, I learned a lot about other cultures and people while gaining some important experience in people relations. This was because of the organization I was involved with and the people I came in contact with. The following is my experience as a volunteer at Commonbond Communities.
I was a volunteer at the homework center of the Seward Tower East. The Seward towers are high rise communities available for people at low rent with many accommodations for them to take advantage of. The general population I came in contact with was refugees from Africa, mostly Somalia. The Somali population at Commonbond was something I had never came in contact with but only had heard of on CNN. I knew of the struggles in war the country of Somalia was experiencing and my first thought when pondering these people’s backgrounds in Somalia was the movie Black Hawk Down. These peoples struggles and backgrounds were so foreign to me I thought I would never be able to relate. But then I met the children of Seward Tower East.
My first day at Commonbond was in the end of October first semester. I started my volunteering first semester through the architecture class 1281 and have continued through 1701. Anyways, I entered the homework center in the first floor of the Seward tower east and was alone. Eventually one other tutor entered and we waited patiently for anyone to arrive. I brought my computer because I was expecting no kids to show up. Then the clock struck 4:30 and a load of kids entered the homework center with backpacks. They were very hyper and loud but eager to greet me. Every kid came up to me and introduced themselves and asked me about fifty questions. How old are you? Why are you here? How fast can you run? Do you like to play tag? We eventually settled in and a few more tutors entered the room. The homework center coordinator entered the room and got everyone set up with a tutor and ready to do homework. Michael immediately came up to and called to do homework with me. I knew then that I would be helping Michael with fourth grade math for the rest of the year.
Michael is a fourth grader that lived on the seventh floor of the Seward tower with his mother, father, and older brother. Both of his parents moved to Minneapolis when Michael was two years old to escape the violence occurring. He is a very smart boy but also very energetic. He would often have trouble concentrating for more than five minutes but that is where I would come in. Every other Tuesday and sometimes Mondays we would do math homework from 4:30 to 6:00. Me and Michael would take periodic breaks however and discuss issues at school such as a game of basketball at recess or whatever the big news was that day from the fourth grade. If Michael was as passionate about homework as he is about storytelling, he would get his homework done in around ten minutes. He would often surprise me with his learning ability and was by far the brightest kid in the homework center. He would often pride himself on his mathematic abilities. I would always tell Michael about college and how great it was or imply to him that he would go to college after high school. For example, telling him he would need to know a certain skill when he starting going to the University of Minnesota. He seemed to like when I talked to him in this manner. But then it would eventually be 6:00 o’clock and everyone knew what that meant. It was game time. Michaels favorite game to play me in was Connect Four. He called himself the master of Connect Four and could beat everyone in the center. My first impression was that I would have to let the master win against me so he could retain his title. I was seriously mistaken. Mike had strategies he would run on me and often straight up beat me. This is when I realized what potential Michael has. His skills in thinking through the game of Connect Four were amazing. We would eventually pack up and leave the homework center but not until we would discuss the next time I would be back. Then upon exiting the center there is a long hallway and the same thing would happen every time. Michael and I would race to the end of the hall. He begged me every time to race him and I would and I would always let him win. I would walk out the door saying I would beat him next time and then ride my back across the river back to the dorms. This would pretty much happen every time Michael and I met.
Meeting Michael was probably the best thing that happened to me while at Commonbond communities but I also met many other great people. The people who worked at Commonbond like Jamal who was in charge of the homework center and Ryan who helped manage the volunteers. I also met other community members while doing adult tutoring and actually connected with two 18 year old High School Seniors my last trip to Seward Tower. I enjoyed this because I had not come in contact with any others over the age of 12 really. They were very interesting to listen to their problems and tribulations. One of the guys was really passionate about politics we talked for around an hour about his views on American politics compared to countries in Africa. Confrontations such as these are what made Seward Tower East an amazing place to spend my hours. I feel thankful I was assigned this place and feel privileged over other classmates who didn’t have a good time with their required volunteer hours.
Going to Seward Tower East every other week and experiencing a population of people so different than me was amazing. I thought I would never be able to relate to anyone but quickly was proved wrong. I was able to become comfortable and make friends with the community members and the people working there very quickly. I learned a lot about a different culture and probably even more about myself. Volunteering quickly became something I was forced to do into something I truly didn’t mind doing at all.