Walk in someone else's shoes
When I read blogs like Ryan's, a college friend now working for the Peace Corps in Moldova, or I get emails from my friend Megan, who moved to Miami to teach in a school system that really needs her, I tend to look inward. Of course, first off I'm always impressed and amazed by what they are doing, but then eventually I'm left wondering what I could be doing with myself to make any sort of difference.

Sure, in my field of work there are many opportunities to help out with the design needs of charity and pro bono clients, and I definitely do. I know educating people and publicizing their organizations are very important to these nonprofits, and I'm quite grateful to my company for allowing us to be a part of that. With that said, I think there's still a big part of me left that really craves the reward of direct interaction with those people in need.

For a few years, Nick and I volunteered to work with underprivileged children a few hours a week, and I'm not sure I've experienced anything more rewarding than hanging out with these little guys on Thursday mornings. It didn't take much effort to constantly make houses out of blocks or to line up toy animals over and over and over and over again. We tied shoes, we wiped noses, we listened to stories that a lot of times didn't make a bit of sense, we played blocks and animals and photographer and talked on "phones" (unfortunately for us, communicating via wooden block was a big hit!), but I think most of all, we just showed them that we cared, even if it was in such a small and seemingly unimportant way. I thrived on the rewards of big hugs and performances of "The Wheels on the Bus," complete with American Idol-esque intensity and "microphones" (those wooden blocks served many purposes), and the days they would so innocently ask you if you were their friend.

I think one of my favorite memories is of a little boy who was always haphazardly put together. He had muddy brown boots that were way too big for his feet, and the laces had been broken and tied back together too many times to count. His little white socks were dingy and gray and had holes so big that all of his toes were sticking out, but they were always concealed by his boots so no one knew. That is, until one morning when his too-large shoe fell off and because of all the knots in the laces, he couldn't get it back on. I discovered it after several of the other children were pointing at his feet and telling him he was nasty. I could definitely read the sheer horror on his face, so I crouched in front of him and blocked out all the other kids. I made sure he knew that he was not nasty or gross and wiped away his tears. Now normally, I would never in a million years touch a sock that looked or smelled like that, but at that moment it didn't matter in the least and I grabbed his foot and shoe and worked on it for several minutes trying to get it back on. His look of gratitude and his beautiful smile stay with me even today. I still don't know what kept me from going out and buying more brand-new white socks than he could handle. Why did I only extend myself halfway? Looking back, I'm so frustrated and sorry that I didn't fix this one tiny little thing that I'm sure would have made a huge impact on him.

About a year ago, we stopped going to the center altogether. Nick had a new job within his company with new hours, and we couldn't make it in the mornings anymore. By the time we got off work, they'd be closing down, and they were never open on the weekends. We missed the kids terribly, so we took some initial steps to become part of the mentorship program. The process has been very slow, partially because life keeps getting in the way, and partially because it just takes a lot of effort to get it organized with all of the parties involved. In the meantime though, I know I'm not doing enough. Actually, even once we DO start mentoring a child, I don't think it will be enough. I know I have a lot more in me that I can give, and I'm a little disappointed that I'm not just going out and doing it like Ryan and Megan.

I feel like right now I'm just putting the shoe back on when I could be out buying new socks, getting shoes that fit and that have real laces, and patiently teaching him how to tie them. And I'm tired of saying that one of these days I'll start.


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