Learning “iMatter”

   I matter: those words can be hard to say out loud.

   With teachers, counselors, and even parents drilling children with the importance of empathizing, community service and understanding you can’t always get what you want, learning to say and think “I matter” can slip through the cracks.

   Sure, it’s important to understand and help others, but that starts with accepting one’s self. If children are taught to only think of their peers, they are left to grow up lacking self-worth.

   That’s where the elementary school program iMatter comes in.

   I had the opportunity to work as an iMatter mentor throughout the 2012/2013 year, working with 4th and 5th graders on character education. I can honestly say the experience was more valuable for both me and the community than if I had chosen to wash dishes or clean up parks for volunteer hours.

   When I met the two girls I would spend eight consecutive Tuesdays with, I saw two blonde, talkative 10 year olds who hadn’t a care in the world. It really wasn’t until week two or three when I realized that was just one side of their personalities. Like any other person in the world, these girls had problems with family and friends, stressors and worries.

   On one particular Tuesday, midway through the session, one of my girls came to me crying, her voice stuck behind tears. It broke my heart to hear her cry, but, in a way it also warmed it.  I knew then that she was starting to trust me, and to understand that her feelings mattered. We were able to talk it over, she was able to accept my help, and we solved the problem and moved on. At age 11, she handled a stressful situation better than some adults I know.

   That’s what the program is all about, really, learning how to handle situations in “the real world” better than those who are currently living in it. Through talking, workbooks and fun games, the girls and all the other children there learned about teamwork, about keeping friends close, about communication and about themselves.

   They weren’t the only ones though. Helping the kids work through hypothetical and real situations, chatting with them about their crushes and their futures, I learned a little something about myself. Their positive outlook on the world changed my own; getting to see their growth as they applied these principals made me look to my own life and made me see how I could change my habits to get what I needed.

   Becoming an iMatter mentor was one of the greatest decisions I made during my senior year, and something I suggest for everyone. Not only does it make a difference in children’s lives, letting them know that they matter, but it also makes a difference in your own.

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