To sincerely attach to a place, to certain people, and work with them to bring to fruition a singular goal – that’s what schools try to teach you from day one of Kindergarten through to high school graduation, wherein projects and any number of extracurricular activities all achieve varying levels of success.
In the case of projects in school, I typically found myself working to get the project done, not out of any desire to actually create an impactful presentation or art piece. Without a genuine connection to what I was doing, to whom it would impact (even if the only person was myself), I was just working because I had to. The best I ever felt about my work in school wasn’t when I properly graphed a parabola, but when I built something, or used math off the page and in a practical way. When I wrote something or drew something I was proud of, or worked within the bond I’d built with the assignment, that’s when I left school feeling good. The Peer Helping Program, at least for me, was exactly that.
Between 2002 and 2007, along with the staff of the centre, we spent all of our time fundraising to keep the doors to the Gathering Place open. There were times when we couldn’t and it did close, which was always difficult. I was more invested in that endeavour than any school project. Hours spent inside the bottle depot sorting pop bottles, beer bottles, wine bottles, milk cartons, all in an effort to keep the place open (the smell of alcohol does not mean partying to me, it means bottle sorting).
I saw what genuine care is, saw sincere investment in both yourself and those you care about. I felt the joy of having the work pay off and having the doors to the centre open back up. Do what you care about, is what I learned. Work with your friends, your family, and work to achieve something you are invested in.
This program starts as a volunteer effort for yourself and for your peers, but it can turn into anything for you if you want it to. It can turn into a community project. It can turn into a job. It may not go exactly as planned; the project may crash and burn, or the going may get tough and you may find yourself crying in the back of a van right in the middle of an extremely important fundraiser (ahem), but it is there for you to try. And sometimes you will succeed, and you’ll see the garden plot, the community pool, the lunch program that you dreamed of rise up in the community, and you’ll see how it benefits people.
I saw the hard work my friends and I put in succeed, and that is something I have carried over now, into a more adult life. Just give it a shot, a good one, and see what happens.
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