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Students recount moving AmeriCorps experiences

by Forwarded by Dr. Valentina Abordonado

One of the programs of AmeriCorps, the national service begun by former President Bill Clinton, is a community HELP program that allows students to earn education awards while serving in the community. In addition to monetary stipends, according to Dr. Valentina Abordonado, who supervises the program for HPU, “Students gain awareness of community needs, build friendships, and develop job skills.”

According to the following stories that Abordonado forwarded to Kalamalama, they also gain some insight into themselves, and the human heart.


Working with terminally ill cancer patients
During my first six months working in the AmeriCorps HELP program, I had experiences that I would never have dreamed of having. I provided end-of-life care to cancer patients. I discovered that the end of life is not necessarily a time of bitter loss, that it can also be a time of final serenity.
I was let into the personal world of the families of the dying and became, for a brief moment, a part of those families, and I saw many of the patients I worked with experience a sort of calmness about what their lives had meant, to themselves and others. The most touching moment for me was when I was caring for an older Hawaiian gentleman who had a generosity of spirit that was almost palpable. He was a man who had several different medical problems and had been in the hospital for months; yet, when I came into the room, he always greeted me with a smile and wanted to know how I was doing. During my last night caring for him, he and his wife asked me to pray with them. What did he pray for? Not himself. He prayed for me to find the strength to make it through nursing school and for his family to find the strength to carry on. Not a word for himself. In that moment, I discovered a hero. He was not rich or famous, but he had found peace in his life.
Working with residents of at a homeless shelter
The AmeriCorp HELP program has helped me to become more empathetic. I find myself “putting myself in the other person’s shoes.” A case in point was my interaction with “E,” a resident at a homeless shelter. I had gone into the experience thinking that all I needed to do was hand out supplies and food.
He came up to me with a wide and warm smile and asked me if I wanted to see what it was like being homeless. “To help the homeless, you first have to experience what it is like to be homeless,” he said. These were prophetic words from a man I thought I was “serving.” E demolished several of my stereotypes. He was articulate, warm, and honest about his experiences on the street. He taught me the value of looking at each person as a person and not labeling them by stereotypes. Now, I find I constantly learn from the people I serve.
Tutoring children with attention deficits
During the month of May, children are usually busy trying to catch up on past assignments and earn extra credit to finish off the school year. I helped three kids during this busy time of year. Despite their problems, all three are amazing children, and they all have special gifts.
One of them, Tylor, is 8 years old and has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder); he finds it very difficult to concentrate in math and reading because these require more time. He had a large amount of overdue homework because he could not finish it. He quickly got behind in math and reading, so the teacher would send extra work home for him to do. Tylor is a very smart child; he just has a very hard time concentrating on his studies. Tutoring him was, at times, challenging. We worked hard as a team to deal with his ADHD, and together we were able to actually catch up on all his late assignments by May 20. When his teacher sent home a note to his parents saying he had finally caught up and that his grades had gone up, it felt so good! I am glad that I did not give up on him because he never gave up. Knowing that he could improve and that I could help was extremely rewarding.
Being a companion
I am in a senior companion program. Assigned a senior citizen in need, I am expected to visit the senior two to four hours a week, help them with basic needs, and provide companionship. My senior was very pleasant and seemed to really enjoyed my visits. It felt good to see her face light up when I would show up. She was so happy to have some company. I learned a lot about her past and met her family. In addition, she offered me great advice about life. She had had a stroke, so getting around was not an easy task for her. I would help her get in and out of bed and apply lotion to her legs because she could not reach them. She did not mind because we became friends. I continued to visit her until February 2003, when she left to live with her son and family in Alabama. I gave her a going away present. I wish her the best of luck because she made my volunteering so rewarding. Another rewarding experience was spending time with cancer patients. It’s amazing to see how strong and courageous they can be. Some of them were very hopeful and some were very determined. I ran errands for them, but my real job was to listen, listen, and listen to their feelings. Their stories were amazing and the experience was unique. I only hope I can be as brave as they are! This experience truly touched my heart!
To learn how you can participate in AmeriCorps and other community service activities, call the Teaching and Learning Center, 544-1143.


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