Change is something we must take into our own hands. For generations, change has been the result of forcing the hands of those in power. Any positive change worth having has, historically, never just been handed out for nothing.
I am not going to convince myself that I can create huge changes, but we can all definitely make small ones. Volunteering is a way I try to evoke positive change. I am the head camp counselor for 11 year-old boys who are considered at-risk youth. With this age group and especially with them being from a vulnerable population, respect is earned and never just given. When you have their back, they will trust in your leadership. They go from arguing with you on the first day to crying and hugging you as they get on the bus to go home. That is truly the most rewarding feeling, and I get chills down my spine when I think about the bonds created each summer. 11 year-old boys like to see what they can get away with. Slurs, especially homophobic ones, flow out of their mouths like water from a faucet. They grow up hearing hate targeted toward gay people, that’s just the culture. However, that kind of bullying was my one line that I drew with them. There was to be absolutely no coming for each other’s sexuality, not even in a joking way. Gender non-conforming people are the most at-risk of violence. I also secretly hoped that having a positive experience with a non-binary person like myself will create good associations later in life.
Another place I volunteered at (before the pandemic) was a soup kitchen. The non-profit offered multiple resources for their clients who were from the homeless LGBTQ+ population ages 15-24. I helped doing Sunday meal prep. It was extremely gratifying to see clients enjoying the family-style meals we put together from scratch. The interaction with the clients was great, too, I looked forward to helping out every Sunday. Then, COVID hit and only select people were allowed to prepare to-go meals. In isolation, I focused on my schoolwork for almost 2 years straight. I major in psychology and I know that I eventually want to help address the complex psychosocial needs of queer folks. So, I recently found a job working as a residential youth counselor for homeless kids who are displaced due to their gender/sexuality. I hope to create more meaningful connections with the youth, and I want to be someone who “gets” them when so many people refuse to understand. I believe it’s incredibly important to see people like yourself represented in all walks of life.
I want to be the positivity that I’ve needed in the past. As a child, I just wanted someone to listen and be my friend. As a teen, I was on a journey of self-discovery and benefited from mentors. And as an adult, I’m still trying to figure it all out. Regardless of the need, take pride in being a change, even if it doesn’t always feel impactful. You don’t plant a seed and expect a tree to grow the next day. But if you water that plant, you’re nurturing the roots for the foundation of stability. Without that, there is no growth.