Name: Benjamin James Balfanz
From: Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
School: South Walton High School
My most meaningful service-based experience is serving as a student
mentor/tutor with the Barbara Bush Foundation’s Literacy Project.
Meeting with my assigned mentee weekly allows for continuous progress
as we build on skills from the previous week. I have seen steady
gains in his reading skills that, while basic to most, were very
challenging given his social background.
Unfortunately, the more time I spent with my mentee, the more I became aware of
social barriers that prevent his progress. It became apparent that
his family doesn’t put an emphasis on reading as demonstrated in
his telling me about all the hours he spends playing video games. He
made it clear that he doesn’t read independently at home, nor do
his parents read to him. Therefore it has been very difficult to get
him interested in reading. I have had to find alternative ways to
keep his interest on the book, including taking turns reading,
discussing text and relating it to his life.
This service project addresses the growing problem of poor literacy rates
among struggling underclass families, with more children every year
having homes that do not promote reading or strong literacy skills.
The main purpose of this project isn’t just to increase these
children’s literacy proficiency, but to reiterate the importance of
spending more time with a book and less time in front of a screen.
Forward looking is contemplating my future endeavors and how they can build
upon my past and current experiences in service to my community. A
community can be the larger communities such as cities, states and
countries, but also communities of individual groups, family, and
friends. The tutoring service will aid me going forward because it
has taught me the need for greater patience and concentration skills.
I will use these attributes in future service endeavors, as well as
personally and professionally.
The ultimate change I seek is to raise the overall quality of life in my
communities. I wish to make the world a better place. This goal can
never be accomplished without giving back and helping create that
environment. I believe, the only way to make real change is to change
the mindset and quality of life for those around me. Individually I
can make small change on my communities; however, it is only with the
help of a larger whole that substantial impact can be made. With the
help of my peers I believe that we are doing just that. With my
tutoring service, I am able to impact the literacy skills and
confidence of my mentee, but with my fellow tutors we are able to
impact more students. This experience will have a lasting effect on
the targeted low-literacy readers as they develop their literacy
skills and progress academically. Hopefully they will pass on
literacy skills to their children and so forth. It is with this goal
that I believe that the work I, and my peers, have done now will last
the next 30 years or even longer.