Ellen Esterhay Photograph


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Project SHINE

February 19, 2013   

I have been wanting to get more involved in community service projects for some time now, and I found a perfect way to do it. My sophomore year I volunteered a bit with HAVOC, Hamilton Association for Volunteering Outreach and Charity. As a side note, HAVOC is a great way to get more involved with the community, and they always have random community service opportunities for Hamilton students. But this semester, I found something a bit different - Project SHINE. Project SHINE is an nation-wide organization that fosters immigrant integration through a number of programs, including English language education. At Hamilton, Project SHINE is run through the Levitt Public Affairs Center, and while many students volunteer on their own, quite a lot of classes (especially Education minor classes) require that students volunteer for one semester.

While abroad in China, I became familiar with the sheer frustration of living in a country where you lack local language proficiency. Although our situations were very different, I feel that I can somewhat relate to recent immigrants to America who have poor English.  Some Chinese people I met were sympathetic, or else impressed with what language skills I did have. But at the beginning of my stay, when my Mandarin abilities were pretty poor, many people assumed that I wasn't smart and didn't treat me with respect because I couldn't communicate well. I also remember how hard it was to have confidence in what I was saying when I wasn't even sure if I was saying it correctly. 

Hopefully my experiences learning a second language will help me teach it as well, because I am now volunteering at a teen center in downtown Utica for recent immigrants and teaching them English!

My first day of volunteering was last Friday, and although I was a bit nervous on the way there, I soon discovered there was absolutely no need for it. I drove with another girl down to the teen center, called the Underground Cafe. It was not her first time volunteering with Project SHINE, but was her first time working with kids. We didn't do much teaching because the students were having a class party before their February break, but we spent time with them and got to know a few. Most kids were Burmese refugees who had spent time in refugee camps in Thailand, but some were from other places as well. We also met with the head instructor, who works there regularly, and he gave us an introduction to how things are run and pointers on how to conduct classes. Which only made me nervous all over again. But the kids were all a blast, and so energetic and fun. I feel like it might be hard to get them to calm down in a classroom setting...but we'll see how it goes next week!