Youth Forward scholarship 2016 – Finding Your Voice in Service to Others

Name: Olivia Brophy
From: Moraga, CA
Grade: college freshman
School: Saint Mary's College of California
Votes: 13

My family has always been active in the community – from Scouting to serving food
to the homeless. In high school, I formalized my volunteer activities
by tutoring students in middle and high school in a variety of
subjects at my school as well as through serving a plethora of
nonprofit organizations through the National Charity League, South
Placer Chapter. My college choice, Saint Mary’s College of
California, has many opportunities for volunteer work. By actively
participating in the monthly “Saturday of Service” and annual
“Jan Term”, I have been able to build upon my volunteer work
performed during high school.

Although I have been fortunate enough over the years to have had the opportunity to
volunteer in many ways, I have come to regard the time I have spent
tutoring in Ms. Amira’s Academic Support Classes as special. The
magnitude of the effect of this experience stems largely from the
fact that it developed organically, not from previous thought or

In my junior year, I started working with students in almost every subject offered
at school. It proved to be one of the greatest challenges I have
ever faced, but also one of the most rewarding. Over the year and a
half I logged over 400 hours working one-on-one and in small groups.
One student whom I tutored, John, was struggling in math. When our
counselor, Mr. Kling, commented on his improvement, he said it
wouldn’t have been possible without my help! I also helped another
boy, Josh, complete an important biology project. It is nearly
impossible to think of a better feeling than when a student is able
to understand a concept after working with you – whether it is for
a few minutes or a few hours. The smiles on their faces and the pride
in their achievements when they’ve done well are unforgettable.

One of the unique aspects of volunteering is that the “peer
helping” isn’t just one way, it’s reciprocal. The free exchange
of ideas that is possible in one-on-one or small group tutoring helps
everyone involved. For me, having to communicate clearly and
effectively with a diverse group of students – oftentimes only
minutes after being introduced – seemed daunting. Throughout the time
I spent in Academic Support, however, I overcame this challenge. I
have grown tremendously as a person, not only because I have helped
others, but because in turn, others have helped me.

As a tutor, I needed to help students feel that they were capable of doing the best
work that they could and they rose to the occasion. Tutoring helped
me to advance skills vital in leaders, including clear communication
and an unfailingly supportive nature. It is important to reiterate
the reciprocal nature of everything that occurs in Ms. Amira’s
class – as I grew in these key skills, I made an effort to
challenge my fellow students to grow as well.

Academic tutoring has helped me grow, yet I still wear the label “shy girl”
that has followed me throughout my school years. While others forged
ahead with their thoughts and ideas, I found myself digging through
books and periodicals looking for just a little more information
before jumping in. Growing up, my mom always reminded me, “There
are three sides to every argument; yours, mine and the right one.”
So, I studied and studied and studied some more. All that studying
was helpful, but the real payoff was in learning to utilize all this
knowledge in my volunteering experiences – where nothing short of
expressing yourself would work.

As a member of National Charity League, I had the opportunity to work with a variety
of charities. One of my favorite groups to work with was the Special
Olympic of Northern California. The athletes taught me that a
simple, “You can do this” or “I am so proud of you” was the
easiest bridge to connecting two people. No matter how long it took
them to cross the finish line, they never gave up and the smile that
accompanied their accomplishment was infectious. The athletes I
crossed paths with through this organization inspired me to confront
my shyness with the same courage and determination they displayed in
the athletic arena. Their inspiration didn’t stop there – my
volunteer work took me to Mexico as a foreign exchange student.
Leading up to my departure last summer, I was able to use my
experience with Special Olympics to convince our student group to
volunteer with Los Olímpicos Especiales in Merida, Mexico. I knew
how inspiring and accepting the athletes had been here in the U.S.,
and I believed that our working with a similar group in Mexico –
where we were required to speak in Spanish – would be the perfect
organization to continue building bridges between people regardless
of culture or citizenship. I trained my peers on how to interact with
athletes – from how to communicate with both verbal and nonverbal
persons to recognizing sensitivities based on body language to
knowing when to ask for assistance from an adult. This was put into
action when we visited a children’s hospital, and while my peers went
off in groups of two, I was able to go off on my own to work with the
athletes and event organizers because my experience gave me the
confidence necessary to do so. As in the U.S., there were many
“Puedes hacerlo” and “Estoy orgulloso de ti” comments as well
as high fives and hugs.

Through all my studying, history has taught me to look at the glass as half full
rather than half empty, regardless of the challenges. Through my
years of volunteer experiences, whether it is working with my peers
or with Special Olympics both here and in Mexico, I learned that a
“shy girl” can find her voice in service to others. It is my
hope all the amazing students and athletes I met know how critical
they were in helping me express myself with the confidence of an

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