Youth Forward Scholarship Summer 2017 – Understanding the Misunderstood

Name: Erin Chestnutt
From: Mt. Airy, Ga
Grade: 11th
School: Habersham Central High School
Votes: 1

Youth Forward
Scholarship 2017


the Misunderstood

Volunteering through my local church has created countless opportunities to help
improve the lives of those not only in my surrounding community but
in the entire country. I volunteered to help children who attend a
summer program at a church in Charleston, SC. My youth group at
church and I felt the need to help them because those kids were in a
very poor urban neighborhood and the summer program they had
organized for them was over ran with children anywhere from 6 months
old to 19 years of age. They only had four staff members watching
them and only two small rooms to keep roughly 50 kids in all day. I
chose to volunteer so I could have the opportunity to show kids who
were expected to be in gangs or incarcerated by the time they were
21 that there is a whole world out there and that they did not have
to become the thing they were predestined to be by society’s

I volunteered at the summer program for a little over 120 hours this
summer and my responsibilities were to watch the children, fix their
lunches, organize games and lessons, and lead the children in songs.
I was constantly having to settle conflicts between the kids and
putting bandaids on scraped knees and elbows. I would be responsible
for watching the babies and teach the toddlers songs to sing and do
arts and crafts with the older kids. The high school kids and I
would go outside and we would play basketball, baseball, and many
other sports they loved to play. Sometimes I would teach the
children lessons and have them answer questions and give me feedback.
Me and other volunteers would act out skits to get the younger
entertained but still learning.

My biggest challenge while volunteering was that I was afraid that I was
not going to make enough of an impact on these kids life and that
they would fall into the stereotypes they were already convinced they
were going to become. Theses children who came to the summer program
grew up around violence so the first thing they knew to do when
conflict arose was to punch, bite, or kick whoever was around. It
was very hard trying to teach the children how to properly talk
things out and that violence never solves anything. Some of the
older children were already affiliated with local gangs or in
initiation for gangs and would come to me and brag about it. Seeing
a life slip away like that without having a way to stop it was
discouraging and heartbreaking.

The most satisfying thing was that when we would come to the summer
program and all the kids were absolutely ecstatic to see us. They
would run up and hug us and they would tell us how much they missed
us in the last 15 hours that they did not see us. When we would
leave the program they would beg us to stay and I usually had about
three babies asleep on me and would have to hand them off. Seeing
how much the kids loved us showed me that I am making a positive
impact on the kids lives and making their day at the summer program a
happy one. I felt that I was molding them for the future and that
just maybe they saw in them what I did. Unsurmountable potential was
in everyone one of them, no matter where they are from or who they
were expected to be.

Volunteering at this summer program has opened up my eyes to the fact that other
children simply do not have the same upbringing as others and that it
has no effect on what great members of society those kids could
become. I learned that the stereotypes placed on them were far
fetched and had no comparison to how loving and bright they are. I
realized how far a act of kindness could really go. A simple smile
could change a life because you never know what someone is going

I know this will help me go far in my career as a nurse. Being able to
understand people who are very often misunderstood will make it
easier to help patients and make it easier for them to relate and
communicate better. I strive to use my experience as an opportunity
to show others that no matter how bad your upbringing was or how
society has declared your outcome to be, you can overcome all of that
and achieve your biggest, brightest dreams. If I came back many
years later I would love to see the children I helped be successful
and not caught up into gang activity and crime that they were
surrounded by. I hope that I gave the kids a new hope of going to
college instead of a feeling of inevitability about going to jail or
being initiated into a gang. I think that the summer program changed
the children’s lives and showed them a whole new environment that was
safe and loving. I hope that they are successful, helpful, and
leading members of their community.

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