Jul 25, 2016 At Loyola Marymount University

How A Nonprofit Changed My Life: A simple off-campus job opportunity that gave me a different perspective

Writer: Samantha Colvin (Photo: Left) Previous mentor/tutor

When I started working for The Emily Shane Foundation, I knew I would be making a difference in the lives of others, but I had no idea how much of an impact they would also have on my life.

The foundation was created in honor of Emily Shane, who was murdered in 2010 at the age of 13, and strives to remember her character and values through the Successful Educational Achievement Program (SEA Program). The goal of the program is to mentor and tutor middle school students who are struggling/failing in classes and are not receiving the attention that they need in the regular classroom. The program is completely free for the students in need, so it can reach those who cannot afford the help they need.

This past year, I had the opportunity to serve as one of the area coordinators for the SEA Program in Westchester. As an LMU student studying education, I was eager to help and make a difference in the lives of students. I had no idea, however, that they would change my life in ways I could never have imagined.

Each child brought so much joy and enthusiasm to the room. This could turn anyone’s bad day into the best day in a split second. I was so inspired by these students because every single child suffered some external hardship, unrelated to academics; yet, they still showed up to work their hardest with their mentor/tutors to make progress.

Students face serious hardships

“It almost felt as if I had just saved somebody’s life.”

For some of the kids, a parent or sibling had been killed as a result of gang violence, and they now felt the pressures to join from their communities. For others, one of their parents was in jail. A few of the kids suffered from emotional and/or behavioral issues that interfered with their abilities to focus on school and to perform in the classroom.

Each and every one of their lives were significantly affected by these hardships, but I continue to admire how strong they are to continue on their path without allowing these things to define them. It was incredible to see the desire these children had to get good grades and to stay in school.

A mentor/tutor changed everything

Honestly, most of the kids were not interested in school when they first joined the program. They didn’t see the importance of it and didn’t think it was necessary for the future—after all, it had never served anyone they knew. So they were often uninterested in the help their mentor/tutor had to offer, and the students didn’t want to put in the necessary work to help themselves. As the year progressed, however, the impact of the mentor/tutors became so visible.

My student, for example, came from a broken home where his mother was in jail, and he suffered from depression. When we were first paired together, he stole food from the grocery store and showed up with an “I don’t care about school” kind of attitude. It was difficult to make progress at first, but after a few weeks, we came up with a plan that worked for both of us. It turned out he could never focus because he was hungry. He had no money to buy food at school, so I would bring him snacks in the afternoon.

“Working for The Emily Shane Foundation has been the most rewarding and educational experience of my life.”

“This is fun”: the greatest words I ever heard

Soon, he was able to focus, and he stopped stealing food from the grocery store. By the end of the first semester, we would be cracking up together as we powered through history and science homework. He actually said to me, “This is fun,” as we studied for a history test once, and those were the greatest words I could have ever heard from him.

When he first came to me, he was literally failing everything. By the end of our first semester together, not only did he not have a single F on his report card, but he actually enjoyed school and found an interest in the work that he thought was so boring and pointless before. Words cannot describe how this success made me feel. It almost felt as if I had just saved somebody’s life.

While I helped him so much, he also taught me many things, such as true perseverance and the importance of valuing life. He inspired me to keep trying, even when you think everything is going to fail and that there is nothing you can do to change that. He showed me that it’s possible for someone to choose a different path, a better path, than those before him. It brings tears to my eyes to see the difference I made in this person’s life.

“More than just academic tutoring”

I don’t know where he would have ended up if it weren’t for The Emily Shane Foundation and the SEA Program. It’s possible that he would have been sucked into the gang community of his neighborhood and put himself in a lot of danger. I am so grateful for my opportunity to work with The Emily Shane Foundation, as it allowed me to make a significant positive impact on somebody’s life.

For some of these kids, we were the only place they could go to where they could feel safe. Reading the parents' reviews at the end of the year was the most rewarding experience as they thanked us for everything we had done for their child. Parents were already trying to secure their child’s spot in the program for next year. When leaving on the last day, one of the kids asked if he could keep in touch with us over the summer, which made me realize the real impact we had on his life. It was more than just academic tutoring. We really truly changed his life, and each and every one of these kids changed mine as well.

Working for The Emily Shane Foundation has been the most rewarding and educational experience of my life. I have learned so much more about what some people go through on a daily basis, and I am impressed that despite all of these struggles, with just a little support, they are able to attend school and achieve success.

This foundation broadened my view of life and taught me to appreciate the little things that so many of us take for granted. It taught me acceptance, not only of all people but also of our own problems. Everyone struggles with something, and that is okay. Through acceptance of these problems and with the help of others, we can work past them.

Working for this foundation has been an incredible experience, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.