Youth Forward scholarship 2016 – Volunteering with Tears and Gratitude Frames My Future

Name: Hannah M. Colarusso
From: Las Vegas, Nevada
Grade: Senior
School: Palo Verde High School
Votes: 0


Four years ago, I learned about the Nevada Community Enrichment Program
(NCEP), specializing in neurological rehabilitation that sought
volunteers. Wonderful opportunities were available to volunteer for;
however, when I toured NCEP, my decision was made.

My responsibilities were tutoring youth and children suffering from
traumatic brain injuries. They had been like me before their
accident or illness. My interpretation of mentoring meant tutoring –
helping them with remote school homework as they recovered. I found,
though, that mentoring included comforting them, crying with them,
encouraging them to take the next step, helping them form words,
cleaning them, translating their verbal and written communications,
laughing with them, easing fears when their feet couldn’t find the
floor when uttering wrong word, brushing their hair, and much more.

Volunteering, to me, would be ‘community’ service. I soon realized
volunteering was ‘individual, personal’ service – not to – but
with youth who had once listened to music, sang, danced, read books,
had boyfriends and girlfriends, did homework, went to movies, and
looked forward to the future. Instead, they faced relearning
everything they already had known, being patient with slow progress,
and acknowledging short-term inability to relate to friends and

Challenging and satisfying experiences with my volunteering are at opposite ends
of a spectrum. Challenges include wanting more time with these
youth, but not having the time. Challenges are rare occasions when
patients’ treatment cannot make them better, or they pass away.
Helping young people to regain normalcy again has been the greatest
satisfaction that I have been blessed with. When considering
“forward looking” at NCEP, volunteering is always “forward
looking,” beyond the disappointments and setbacks, struggles and
doubt, breakthroughs and ultimate successes.

During the first two years, I volunteered 10 to 20 hours weekly. Then, I had
to work 20 hours weekly to help support myself, resulting in 10 hours
volunteering. I am at-risk for homelessness. My parents’ homes
have been deemed unacceptable and abusive. Thankfully, I am able to
live at a friend’s home until college, enabling me to finish high
school. The lesson I learned from volunteering is to be grateful for
my life regardless of my hardships. My volunteer work, as well as the
work of others doing what I do, make a difference in others’ lives
– now, 10 years or 30 years from now. I will have made a
difference in many lives.

While my career may not directly interact with traumatic brain injured
youth, I will always give my time freely for these very special
people. My short-term goal is to finish undergraduate and graduate
schools in clinical psychology. My career plan is to open my own
psychology clinic to serve youth who have or are been abused or
neglected, who are homeless, who have sexual orientation issues, who
experience low self-esteem, and who are victims in other ways. I
want to assist these youth to find and have happy lives, to be able
to give love, and to be loved.

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