This Little Girl Makes Me Nervous

Sherma Almeida, Policy and Program Development Manager

I’m not sure what made me decide to become a reading mentor with Everybody Wins! DC. I saw the emails, went to the information session and found many reasons NOT to volunteer. I worried about my schedule getting in the way and not being able to be consistent in my commitment. I worried that something that sounded as easy as reading to a child would become tedious and annoying. I knew the kid would expect me to be there and failing to show up would disappoint an innocent child! I wondered if leaving the office to go to Garrison Elementary would take longer than expected. What about bad weather days? I don’t even like to go to the vendor in front of the building on those days, much less to a school miles away. I remembered my own kids at home that I needed to read to. So my decision after the last call for volunteers was to give to CFC, bring in some canned food for the food drive, and consider my PSA civic duty accomplished.

Yet, something kept nagging at me. With all the charitable and volunteer activities I’ve done with the Agency over the years, I felt anonymous; I didn’t feel connected with the people who were the intended recipients. I recalled the one volunteer project that came close to feeling that connection was when group of us went to Food for Friends and put together lunches that were to be distributed later that day. However, that experience was good for connecting with other co-workers, but it was a one-time event and I did not meet anyone who got one of those lunches. So, I was left wondering if I should take the plunge and commit to being a reading mentor to a child – a real, live little person who would expect me to show up as promised week after week. I decided to do it. Rather than giving in to my worries, I accommodated them by “sharing” a child with Leslie Cooper, PSA’s Deputy Director. We alternate weeks to read to “our girl”.

Though I had conquered my commitment anxieties, the experience didn’t start off all that well. Leslie had the first week so when I showed up the following Friday, our 1st grader didn’t appear to be expecting me. Leslie assured me that there had been no bonding moment the week before, but that did not dissuade me from feeling that our student wasn’t exactly happy to see me. I suspect she wasn’t told that she’d have two reading mentors. Our student definitely had expectations and it appeared that I was not measuring up to them. We had a few awkward moments as she crossed her arms tightly over her chest and looked away. I started to panic a bit, thinking she seems really mad, so I said, “You seem upset, is everything, ok?” “No,” she replied without elaborating. Now, I’m an experienced mother, a veteran of 20 years and mother of a 1st-grader myself!  I know kids, but this little girl made me nervous. I decided not to focus on her demeanor, so I asked her if she wanted to pick out a book. She quickly told me she wanted to read Sunset of the Saber Tooth – which prompted yet another moment of panic as I had NO IDEA what she was talking about – and she stood up to go find it. Whew! As I watched her go to get it, I felt relief and hoped we were on our way to a productive reading session. By the time the hour was over, I had read the book to her, she had learned a new vocabulary word, and she took a turn and read to me.

My concerns about making the commitment have evaporated. I truly look forward to my Friday reading sessions. Getting to Garrison Elementary by Metro couldn’t be easier; it is literally two blocks from the station. My work schedule hasn’t been a problem although I have been seen running down the street to the school in an effort not to be late. So far, on my designated Friday, the weather has cooperated and I’ve had no unpleasant cold or rain to discourage my trip, but even if there is a Friday that doesn’t have beautiful weather, I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting out in the weather to go read.  I’ve only spent about 5 hours with my student, but I look forward to every visit with her. She is smart, energetic, animated, and not shy about expressing herself. I hope that I am making a difference in her life. I am sure she is making a huge impact on mine!

The PSA Writers Bureau is a creative forum for employees to write about PSA from a personal perspective.