2013 Greenheart High School Essay Contest Winner

By: Molly Friend, Greenheart Outreach Coordinator

Greenheart held our Third Annual National Essay Contest for all CCI Greenheart exchange students and their high school classmates this year.  Students were asked:

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.—Ghandi
Reflect on a volunteer experience you have had, explain what you did, the population you served, and the impact you made. What did you learn from that experience about your community, and your world view, and most importantly yourself?

The winning essay receives a $500 grant to do a  Greenheart project at their high school. We received an  array of inspirational essays from youth across the country. After careful consideration of all the essays, a winner was chosen.

Barbara Nadolna of Columbia Academy in Columbia, Tennessee won with her heartfelt essay about her volunteer experience at a women’s shelter. Barbara is CCI Greenheart exchange student from Poland who has actively logged 30 volunteer hours for Greenheart Club.  Congratulations Barbara!

Read her essay below.

By: Barbara Nadolna

Barbara Nadolna

Barbara Nadolna

The Women’s Rescue Shelter in Nashville is a place where homeless ladies can find a little room for themselves.  It is a spot where people can help them by serving food and doing small things that will put a smile on their faces.  A person can also meet a really good friend like I did or realize and appreciate how lucky she is because of what she has.  One can also learn more about herself, and it is a good opportunity to become a better person.

The first time I went there was about four months ago with Kim, my Sunday school teacher, and a few of my other friends from church.  In the beginning, I didn’t really know where I was going or what I would be doing, but I was excited anyway.  I knew I would be able to help people.  My first impression when we got there and were standing in front of the building was that it looked like a sad and melancholy place.  There were a lot of women who were not smiling, teenage girls, and small children running around.  This was understandable because it is not easy to be here for a long period of time.

It was almost dinner time so we went upstairs to put on an apron, gloves, and hair net.  We went into the kitchen to meet Kim, a tall, strong woman with unique red hair.  She graduated from the program a few months ago but still worked there and helped with meals.  She was smiling because she knew our Sunday school teacher.  They divided us up into jobs:  who would put food on trays, who would serve food and drinks, and who would do dishes.  I really wanted to talk to the women so I asked if I could serve food and sweet tea. When dinner time came, Kim was taking care of people standing in the doorway to the cafeteria.  People were impatient and hungry  When we started serving the food, I tried to smile even though some of the girls were rude.   A few of them complained about spicy chicken when they should have been happy to have a free meal.  It didn’t upset me because I was aware of their hard situation, and I tried to understand their behavior.  I was polite and nice to everyone.  After a while some of the girls started smiling back at me.  A lot of them came up to us after they were finished and said, “thank you girls; you’re so sweet.”  It was definitely worth it.

Why do you think some homeless people are impolite?  Think about it.  Most of the time when we see them standing on the side of the road asking for money or just sitting there with a dirty faces and clothing, we ignore them.  Personally, I think ignorance is the most hurtful thing.  They already feel embarrassed, humiliated, and often depressed when they hear rude comments about themselves.  How frustrated people can be when we ignore them!  Those of us with families, warm beds, and refrigerators filled with food can sometimes be egotistical and selfish.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that we have to start helping every homeless person we see; some of them do not really want help due to drinking or drugs.  But if we see that they are trying to change and want our help, then we should help them because if situations were reversed we could become one of them.

My second time to be there was in December at Christmas time which is a family time.  Ladies had prepared a special Christmas meal with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes.  It was a busy evening with around 200 people, including children.  This time we brought gifts for 30 of them who were on a hope program.  There were socks filled with a few small things and a Bible.  Faith is really important for those girls.  It is the only thing they can hold on to.  The gifts were given to them after the meal while we were singing the Christmas songs.  For the first time I saw all of them smiling, laughing, and even singing like they had forgotten for a while about their problems.  It was a blessing just to watch them.  It is sad that they are not accustomed to presents and that they are alone without families and friends.  That evening was one of my best experiences at the women’s shelter.  I was able to share their joy.

My third visit was normal except I saw one new face.  Her name was Barbara, and I got excited because my name is Barbara.  On this night she was in charge in the kitchen instead of Kim.  I don’t know why but I knew when I saw her that she would bring me closer to to the women’s shelter.  We became friends on Facebook, and that is how we started talking.  My fourth time at the women’s shelter was on Valentine’s Day.  I already knew most of the girls.  The day before our volunteer church group met at my house especially to write encouraging quotes on the Valentine’s cards and to bake cupcakes and other candy.  We ended up with 50 cupcakes and around 70 cake pops.  On Sunday I saw Barbara again.  She helped us give all the candy to the women from Hope Center before the dinner started.  They were really touched; some of them almost cried.  The ladies were really thankful, but what was more important was that they were smiling. Proverbs 15:13 says, ” A happy heart makes the face cheerful.”  Even though I know that we didn’t do a lot, it really meant something to me.

After the meal we gave them all the clothes we collected.  Then Barbara stood up and shared her story with us.  I know it was a really big and important move for her.  She had never talked about her story, and we didn’t want to push her so we had never actually asked.  She had always been more worried more about the other girls on the program than about herself.  That amazed me because even though she didn’t have a lot, she was a more generous person than most.  When we were getting ready to leave, Barbara hugged me for a long period of time and told me quietly, “thank you”.

To sum everything up, I am really glad that I made a decision to be a part of this mission.  I am so glad that I had the opportunity to help other people.  I am sure that I will continue my volunteer work because it has become both a hobby and a passion.  Even though I realize that continuing this in my native country will be difficult, helping people in shelters or similar places is the right thing to do.  I will never forget this experience and how it opened my eyes to the whole world.  This has definitely made me a better person.  Now I know that ” the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Stay tuned to find out how Barbara will use the $500 grant!