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Lunch With Darnell—Volunteering With Big Brothers Big Sisters

It’s the place where chicken nuggets for lunch is more exciting than Christmas morning; weird smells fill the gym-café-torium and spending time in the computer lab beats fractions any day. It’s an inner city elementary school—and it’s where I spend my lunch break every Monday afternoon.

Over a year ago, I decided to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters after learning about the organization and talking to other volunteers at LPK’s annual United Way Campaign kickoff. With the 2012 United Way Campaign underway, I figured I’d share just a little about being a “big.”

Growing up, my parents always put a strong emphasis on education. From my first day of kindergarten to my first day of work, they (along with my older brother and sister) have been there to support, encourage, challenge and foster my thirst for knowledge and creative spirit. I recognize how blessed I am and want to give back a little of what has been given to me. Plus, as the youngest in my family, I’ve always wanted to be a big sister.

After an application, an interview and a background check I got matched with my “little,” Darnell: a third-grader full of energy and a love for cherry-flavored AirHeads. With very little in common, art has become our common bond.

Each week is something new. We talk about our weekends, play board games (favorites include The Game of Life, Guess Who and Don’t Break the Ice), color, draw, fold origami or create small craft projects. It seems so simple, but it means so much.

Darnell’s creativity and unique perspective are constantly inspiring my own. On one occasion, we were making an origami dog and—fold after fold—our plain piece of paper was starting to look more and more like a dog. Since there was only white paper available, we thought we would color them to add some personality and fun. Excited, I told him I was going to make mine with brown spots and one big patch over his eye. Darnell liked the idea and wanted to do the same.

We picked out colors and shared our markers. My origami looked just as you might expect: a boring old dog with brown spots and a patch on his eye. Darnell’s imagination put mine to shame—his dog had a pirate patch over its eye. Naturally, any pirate dog needs a pirate hat. Cutting more paper and gluing pieces together, Darnell created quite the origami dog. I laughed to myself, remembering how cool it was to be a kid. For a 9-year-old, no idea seems silly and finding creative solutions to problems just comes naturally.

It’s humbling to visit a school that is less than a mile from work but feels worlds apart. Visiting Darnell at his elementary school is a respite from my day behind the computer. It’s a place where inspiration is everywhere and laughter echoes down the hallways. It’s also a weekly reminder that there are bigger problems in the world than picking the perfect Pantone color swatch for a design and troubles much greater than Illustrator crashing … again.

I feel so lucky and grateful for the opportunity to volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters and give back to the community, but also for what it brings to my own life. I no longer have “a case of the Mondays.” Now, I look forward to the start of the week and spending time with Darnell. It’s refreshing to see the world through the eyes of an elementary-school student, building a friendship with a fourth-grader. It reminds me of all the blessings in my own life.

If you think you might want to volunteer, go to bigsforkids.org and click on “volunteer.” Sign up and click “submit,” and Terri Sopher will contact you about your application. You can check out their Facebook page, too.

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