Youth Forward scholarship 2016 – The Importance of People

Name: Katherine Anne O'Donnell
From: Moorestown, New Jersey
Grade: 12
School: Moorestown High School
Votes: 0

“Do you have a car?”

On the surface it was a harmless question that I should have been able
to respond to easily, but Von’s question wasn’t simple. As an
underprivileged eight year old, he was trying, I could tell, to gauge
how different we might be. In his neighborhood, there is likely one
old, beaten up work truck per family. I come from a town where
teenagers get new BMWs for their birthdays. I had grown up believing
that happiness could be found in material goods. And as I considered
my answer to Von’s question, I felt painfully embarrassed by how
easily I had taken things for granted. I may not have always had
everything I wanted, but I’ve always had everything I needed.

I met Von during a transformative week at The Philadelphia Project, an
inner-city mentoring program. A car is just a dream for a lot of the
kids I worked with; they would much rather have a meal in front of
them at the end of the day. Yet, Von was still curious about the
world I come from. And as I truly reflected on that world, I decided
to lie and told him I didn’t have one. Suddenly, a car didn’t
seem important to me at all.

As my week progressed I began to notice that the kids valued interaction
and attention. They would practically fight for my attention by
arguing over who got to sit on my lap during the movie, or grabbing
my hands and pulling me back and forth. At first this baffled me, and
I was very close to dismissing it as children being children. On day
two though, something clicked. It dawned on me that the reason
attention and relationships were so important to the children is
because it’s all some of them have. The kids craved meaningful
relationships to make up for the lack of material possessions in
their lives. So as the week went on I did my best to focus on
relationship building with the kids. I worked on showing them the
importance of a strong friendship as I interacted with some of my
best friends who were on the trip with me. These kids have grown up
in an environment where they learned to value people over
possessions, which is a lesson they taught me without even realizing

When I came home, I viewed my world differently. The first time I got back
into my car, I thought of Von. While babysitting, I didn’t hesitate
to explain to Sophia the importance of compromising with her sister.
When I got home late and my dinner was cold I didn’t complain; I
thought of the kids and felt lucky to have a home-cooked meal.

I will never forget my last moments with the kids. If I could I would
spend my whole summer with them. They opened my eyes to what’s
important in the real world and not just in the bubble of my home
town: people.

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