Name: Laura Zaks
From: State College, Pennsylvania
Grade: High School Junior
School: Penn State University
It Made A
Difference For That One
It sounds crazy to
say, “I am a volunteer for trail maintenance, in the mountains of
Pennsylvania.” But I say it proudly! My whole first semester, as a
freshman at Penn State University, I have spent every Saturday for
five months either clearing thick brush, raking leaves to avoid
drainage, or refilling the gravel on paths with wheelbarrows I can
never quite handle myself.
In fact, I am the
weakest of the bunch at Circle K, the organization through which I
volunteer. If I’m told to carry a table to the picnic area, or lift
a tree blocking the trail, I am literally heaving.
It used to be a challenge asking for help when I should be the one
doing the help, but ironically it is this lesson and quality I have
learned by volunteering. Asking for help and working together are
never weaknesses—they’re strengths.
I am in every way
thankful for my experiences this semester, and it does make me think
about what “forward looking” means to me.
But before I go
there, I want to explain why I chose trail maintenance. So here I go:
I get so much joy by
working in nature, the place where people can just get down to the
core of peace and quiet…and life itself. Amongst the trees, the
rocks and the leaves there’s a silent promise of something bigger
in the world than just us individuals…and that is why I volunteer.
I meet people who share a passion for fostering change in community,
who find that in helping others, you don’t put yourself at the
center of your universe: you put the universe at the center.
One day, I hope to
work for a non-for-profit organization that works to prevent human
trafficking, as that is something I have recently become very
passionate about. Although trail maintenance doesn’t directly tie
to this career path, the skills of a volunteer are undeniable and
priceless. I want to help others in my life; I want to use myself as
a vessel through which others can have a voice and feel supported.
Through volunteer work, I gain the humility, the camaraderie, and the
courage to ask for help while I myself am doing the help (aka the
wheelbarrow I can never lift). It is with sincerity and empathy that
I want to live my life and it doesn’t matter how many years go
by—let it be thirty!
I know that even a
change in a community is great change… a way of looking forward .
There’s a proverb
about a boy saving starfish by returning them back to the ocean, and
an old man telling the boy there’s no way he can save them all and
make a difference. The boy pointed to one he saved and said, “I
made a difference for that one.”