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'Put a little love in your heart'


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

David J. Cieslak

By David J. Cieslak
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 8, 1999

Too often, people in high school and college spend so much time in class or at home that the world around us seems nonexistent. The problems that other people face are placed on the back-burner.

That almost happened to me two years ago.

My high school required that its students perform two hours of community service every week. I chose to work at a special school in Los Angeles because it seemed like a nice opportunity to make new friends and help students my age who had problems coping with a regular high school.

And I'm extremely lazy, so it seemed easier than some of the more laborious jobs that my school was offering.

The school's administrators were very honest with their volunteers. This is not an easy job, they said. It's emotionally draining. The job can either be one of the more positive experiences of your life or can leave you running out the door.

On a daily basis, brutal fights broke out on the playground between students. People - teachers and students alike -Ĝwould often leave bruised and battered. During one of my first days, one student hit another with a giant trash can.

Some students wouldn't return the next day. Too often, the streets of downtown L.A. would become too much of a burden for the teenagers to overcome. Too many of them were raised in drug-infested environments where escape is not an option.

Sometimes, I would leave traumatized from the insanity of that place.

Other times, however, I could have stayed all day.

When my year of service was complete, I decided that ditching those students who counted on my weekly visits would have been wrong. They'd been ditched by so many people already - including, quite often, their own parents -Ĝthat saying goodbye to their tutor would have been yet another let-down in their lives.

So I stayed on and they gave me another student.

"It'll be a challenge," they said.

Turns out, this boy couldn't read words that contained more than two letters.

"Dog," "cat," "but," "and" - all foreign to him.

This was infuriating as hell.

The system failed this boy. So much for social services and the school districts. Those bastards gave up, passed this young man off into a school for disturbed kids and hoped that a 17-year-old tutor could work a miracle.

Big surprise - I couldn't. I taught him to read a few words. I did my best, and that wasn't nearly good enough.

Then I left for the University of Arizona and never saw him again.

I said goodbye, wished them all luck and hoped that they would further their educations, go to college and not allow their personal problems to defeat them.

Did I make a difference in those students' lives? I hope so.

Don't get me wrong -ĜI'm no hero. I did what everyone should do: I gave back to the community that helped raise me.

Trouble is, few of my current friends and classmates even dabble in community service.

I realize people are busy. Some people work, others take seven classes and are buried in homework.

But reading the Wildcat's story on Friday about UA students helping people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease showed me that there are plenty of opportunities in Tucson for people to help others.

If you're not ready to deal with terminally ill people, there are organizations on campus that allow students to work with children, help maintain the environment and assist the elderly.

UA administrators wonder why freshman retention rates are in the gutter. The problem, in part, is because students don't have enough connections to the community.

Advisers should point students in a direction where they can make friends, meet prospective mentors and help the community all at the same time.

It's a simple as putting a little love in your heart.


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