Kayleigh Medina was a volunteer at Palmetto Place in the spring of 2015. These are her reflections on her time with our kids:
For the past semester, I’ve been volunteering at a local children’s shelter. At first, I was only going with the intentions of getting my 15 community service hours for one of my classes. The first time I went, I was terrified. I love kids, but I found every reason to complain about taking time out of my week to hang out with kids that might not even like me. Boy, was I wrong. Here I am, in tears at the end of the semester because I won’t get to see any of them for 3 months, and I might not see some of them ever again.
The first time I went to Palmetto Place, I was scared, skeptical, and hesitant. I thought the kids were going to make fun of me, distrust me, and want nothing to do with me. I quickly realized that this was not true at all. Yes, they were sassy and defensive – but can you blame them? Many of them have already had to fend for themselves considerably during their relatively short lives.
Out of all of the children I have met here, one special three year-old girl has impacted me the most. She is an absolute firecracker. I met her the second time I volunteered here. She latched right on to me, and we became buddies. Later that day, she fell into a bad mood, and decided that she didn’t want to share with any of us. I held her still for a minute and asked, “Do you know why I am here?” She shook her head, “No.” I replied, “I am here to play with you and to be your friend. Do you want to be my friend?” She nodded her head with an excited “Yes!” I prompted her, “Well, friends share with each other, love each other, and are kind to each other – think you can handle that?” I watched her consider my request for approximately thirty seconds, and then I watched her completely refute my advice (three year-olds and logic don’t always mesh well). I left that day, knowing that I learned something big, and hoping that this little girl did too.
I returned the next week, and immediately felt someone tugging at my shirt (and, of course, my heart). I looked down and (who would have guessed it?) it was that same little girl. She excitedly declared “I’m not going to do what I did last time because I want to be your friend.” This was huge, coming from a three year-old. It took me only that moment to realize that I wasn’t here just to sign off on a few service hours and leave. I was there for children like her. I was there because I am passionate about these special children and this special place. I wasn’t assigned to Palmetto Place. I went there, and I continued to go, because I felt like I was able to make an impact on these children.
I now go to Palmetto Place every Thursday, and it is honestly the highlight of my week. I get excited just walking into that door and hanging out with these kids once a week. They break my heart and mend it back together all at the same time. Thinking about what these kids have already gone through in their lives tears me apart. Why should innocent children have to suffer from situations that aren’t in their control whatsoever? When I think about the home that these children and youth might be coming from, and the home that they might have to return to, I am so thankful for their temporary home at Palmetto Place. Without non-profit homes and shelters like Palmetto Place, these children could have ended up in mass orphanages, or in unsteady, and often unsafe, home environments.
My time serving at the shelter this past semester is something that I will never forget. These kids will remain in my heart and my prayers for a long time. The hope that I see in their eyes, despite everything they have been through, is beautiful to me. These children have every right to feel disparaged by, and distrustful of, the world, yet they placed their trust right in the palm of my hand. Here at Palmetto Place, I get to help kids realize their full potential in life, and teach them that they aren’t defined by their starting points in life, but by how far they come.