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Helping children feel at home
Heather Stein (Submitted photo)

I volunteer to work with special young refugees at a local church in Beechfield, a neighborhood in Catonsville. The group is known as the Baltimore City Community College Refugee Youth Project. The young refugees come from all around the world, but those we assist at the Beechfield church are mainly from Burma. The students range in grade level from middle school to high school. We help them with their homework, among other things. I volunteer every Monday during my school semester at the Community College of Baltimore County, and have been doing so since this past fall. Our days start off by playing games and fun ice breakers to loosen everyone up. After the ice breakers, volunteers sit down with the children and help them with whatever homework they have, whether it's studying for an upcoming quiz or completing assignments. Some are seniors and have questions about scholarships, colleges and jobs. As volunteers, we give them all the information we can, and even help them fill out applications. For some of the younger children who don't get as much homework, we engage in other activities, from giving them study tips to playing games or making artwork with other volunteers. Most of the children that come to RYP haven't had an easy transition leaving the life they knew and starting another one in America. This is like when some kids in America move to different states in the middle of the school year and are expected to make all new friends and get accustomed to their new surroundings. I often like to tell the kids I work with about a similar experience I had growing up. When I first entered high school, I didn't know a single person there, and I felt very awkward and out of place. It's a rough feeling, but it gets better, and that sentiment of hope is what I like to share with them. Taking that first step into opening up and showing people who you are will inspire them to want to get to know more about you. It's completely normal to be shy in a new place, but the best way to overcome the reservations we have is to face them head on. This is what I try to encourage the kids I work with to do. When I tell them my story, there is almost an instant bond created between us. I love being one of the people they have to connect with and relate to.

I volunteer because I want to make a positive difference in the young lives of those around me, to better a generation, and ultimately better the community. Volunteering means a lot to me. I love to help people and be a part of something bigger than myself. Volunteering brings value to my life and essentially gives me a sense of peace. It is easy to go through life only thinking about yourself. Everyone is busy with their own agenda, but taking a step back to help others opens your eyes about life. I would much rather help those around me and make a difference in the lives of others than just go through life focused on myself. I've wanted to join the peace corps for years to help kids just like those being helped by RYP. I wish more people knew the feeling of self-worth you get from helping others. Taking a few hours out of your busy week to help someone else in need gives you a truly amazing feeling that you can't get from anything else. Not only does volunteering help others, but I have found that it motivates me to succeed in my life goals, as well.

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The Volunteer Voices section highlights outstanding volunteers in the Baltimore County area. If you're a volunteer and are interested in submitting to the series, please email elaina.clarke@communitytimes.com.

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