Nickolas Seitler, CAC AmeriCorps Alum 2014-2015
Throughout my AmeriCorps term I met countless interesting people, helped plan events, and spent time making my community a better place. And throughout all of it one of the most rewarding experiences was tutoring and mentoring at the CAC East center on Monday nights.
I accepted my position on the Recycling Education Team just a few weeks before my term started. I didn’t know where I would live, who I would live with, or what Tennessee would be like. My decision to not plan ahead made things unnecessarily stressful, but after moving and getting comfortable in Knoxville I found that I was exactly where I wanted to be.
A few months into my term I heard about a tutoring program that needed volunteers on Monday nights. I always need something new to keep me busy and two of my closest friends in AmeriCorps were also interested, so we all started going each week. I had no idea at that point that that decision would change my entire year.
I expected to spend most of my time with students that didn’t like math or science and that didn’t want to spend a school night working on those subjects. But that’s not what I found at all. Most of the students I worked with felt that math was their weakest subject, but they wanted to get to better. I didn’t have to spend time explaining why it would be beneficial to them, they came to tutoring with the mindset that school was important.
After spending a few weeks working with different students I was told about one young man that was going to start coming to tutoring soon. He had been to tutoring in the past and everyone knew him, now that he was in high school he had more of an interest in school and his future. I was asked if I would work one on one with him and possibly act as a mentor. I agreed without hesitation.
He was very quiet when I first met him, he didn’t make much eye contact or have much to say. I’m not really one for words most of the time either, so I could appreciate that. We spent most of his first evening at tutoring just talking about school and his interests. I knew that he really wanted help with math and that his life had been anything but consistent. That’s when I realized that tutoring was something more than just a place to learn about math or writing for the students that show up each week. It’s a consistent safe place for all of them, a place to learn and talk and be a part of a small community that is supportive.
So as the weeks went on we worked on his math, which he actually started to enjoy. And he started to talk a little more each time I saw him. It turned out that we had a lot in common. We both liked animals, comic books, video games, all of which became things to bond over. He told me he wanted to go to college, which had been something he hadn’t seen as a reality before coming to the East center. I was later told that no one else got him to talk or open up the way he did when we worked together.
Some students came to every tutoring session, others started the year but didn’t finish. But every student that came to at least one night of tutoring had a safe place to learn and be themselves. The volunteers all cared about the wellbeing of the students and the students all took an interest in improving their grades.
I felt privileged to be a part of such a great program in Knoxville. I saw students raise their grades and consider going to college. Students came into tutoring with their report cards and showed them off to everyone because of how proud they were. A lot of young people changed their lives for the better by spending time at the East center, not only because of their grades, but because they found a place where they could be themselves and shine.
Now I’m living too far from Knoxville to be able to visit often, but I know that when I come back I’ll be able to visit the East center and see friendly faces.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.