By Roberto Lachner
I started volunteering at JaxTHRIVE in the fall of this past 2019-2020 school year. I really had no idea what to expect; I just knew that I needed to get volunteer hours for school. I wasn’t expecting to get involved, I wasn’t expecting to make friends, and I truthfully wasn’t expecting to make a difference. And that’s the goal, right? Everyone wants to make a change and leave the world a better place than how they found it. Well, I can confidently say that even just in one year of stepping out of my comfort zone once every 14 days, I really did become a catalyst and a source of positive change, however large or small.
I want to talk about my two friends, Tinsaye and Samuel, two brothers from Ethiopia. I met them during my first few weeks at JaxTHRIVE and we grew close both in person and during our weekly online sessions.
Tinsaye is in seventh grade, loves to draw, and appreciates the visual arts. Like many students at JaxTHRIVE, Tinsaye’s mind is full of deep ideas and capability for understanding complex topics, and yet is often relegated and underestimated at school and elsewhere because of his background as a refugee and his difficulty reading English. I had an absolute blast with him. I myself can understand what it’s like to move to a new country and be forced to adopt to a new culture (since my family moved to the states from Costa Rica when I was 5 years old) and so while working with Tinsaye I knew that he didn’t need any special treatment but in fact that I could go beyond what was being taught with him, because not only did he understand it well, but he enjoyed it.
One of my best memories with him was when the topic of the Saturday had to do with astronomy, and after we got through the packet with some spare time, I learned that he had never seen footage of the moon landing. I took out my phone and showed him some brief clips, and it was awesome to see his reaction to something which is so iconic to so many of us and yet he had never seen before. We also had fun during online schooling. One assignment he had was on the First Amendment, and as always, when we went through the worksheet, I made sure that the answers weren’t so much served on a platter or glossed over but instead discovered via in-depth discussion. We talked about every single part of the first amendment in depth, from where religious freedom does not apply to when it is appropriate to claim free speech. I am really interested in this type of thing, but I never really get to talk about it with anyone, so I really enjoyed myself sharing what I knew with him, especially since I could tell that he was having fun too.
Samuel is in second grade and I can admit with certainty that he is one of the brightest people I know. I met him because I was new and didn’t know any of the kids and he didn’t know any of the tutors. We partnered up and I very quickly discovered that although Samuel was grouped with the younger students, he already knew most of what was on the agenda, and if he didn’t, he learned it fast. That left us with a lot of time after we had finished the topic of the Saturday to discuss really anything. We talked about where we were from, what we liked to do for fun, and what we liked to learn about.
My favorite day with him was the very last session before JaxTHRIVE was shifted to online learning. The topic of the day was “forces and gravity.” I had given the packet a read before he came in, and when he did I asked him what he knew about “forces and gravity.” Not very much to my surprise, he mentioned pretty much everything which was in the packet. Because of that, we spent the 45 minutes with me teaching him what I knew about the subject. We talked about the more complex aspects which weren’t really in the packet, like how gravity isn’t really even a force but is rather a warp of space itself around an object, and how that specifically applies to planets. We also discussed how forces are present all around us, and that effectively the ground was pushing back on us as we pushed on it with our feet. When all my knowledge on that topic was exhausted, we moved on to plenty of other things. He asked me how plants eat and why their green and that lead to another long discussion about photosynthesis, how it came to be, and a plethora of other plant related biology. He then asked a great question, which is, “what if everything was free?” Well that evoked the last topic for the day, about how in a way that had already happened in certain places with the rise and fall of communism. All of these stories really speak to one of my favorite parts about JaxTHRIVE, which is that I get to teach people about things which I love and love learning about, and then see that same passion reflected in them.
This year, I got involved with JaxTHRIVE, I made friends, and I really did make a difference (even though I didn’t expect to). My motivation for being a part of this organization isn’t really about the volunteer hours anymore, because the time I spend with people like Tinsaye and Samuel is reward enough for me. I get to talk with them about things which I don’t even get to discuss with my other friends. I get to share my love of learning with them. I get to feel like I have made some sort of positive change in another person’s life. They are both outstanding people and I really hope that they go far. The experiences and feelings I have mentioned here are just a fraction of the reasons why I truly believe that this organization is promoting a positive impact in the community and why I hope to stay involved with it for a long time, and why I know that many others will, too.