Students are often pressured to volunteer by parents and clubs to satisfy the “Volunteer” section of the college application. Out of my four years of high school, I have probably accumulated over 300 hours of volunteer work. With every hour volunteered, I have learned more about myself and other people.
This Christmas season my co-workers and I collected donations for the Oxford Masonic Home, a children’s orphanage located in Oxford, North Carolina. I was purely collecting the donations because I was asked too, not because I took an interest in where they were going.
We ended up raising over $3,000. The Home had given us a list of what the children wished to receive for Christmas. About 100 dollars was spent on each child, and the rest was given to cover anything else that the Oxford Masonic Home needed.
The Oxford Masonic Home takes children that had an unstable family, whether it is from abuse, addiction or neglect, and places them with a house family within the orphanage. House parents can have up to five children living with them at one time. Children are allowed to stay in the orphanage until they are twenty-one years old.
A few days after Christmas, my co-workers and I drove to Oxford to present the orphanage with a hot meal and the gifts that we had bought the children. I didn’t really know what to expect or how much it would impact me.
We stood behind the food table serving our guests. I have never been treated with such respect from adults and children in my entire life. Every request was phrased “May I please” and everyone thanked us more times than I could ever count. The appreciation in our guest’s eyes was indescribable.
This appreciation made me think. Just a few days ago was Christmas, and I was opening $100 sweaters, new boots and other superfluous items. While I was appreciating that, these people, house parents and children, were appreciative of a hot meal. Wow.
After everyone had eaten, we were able to steal some final bites and sit amongst the children and their house parents. I sat next to a pair of older parents. Immediately, I felt welcome. The house mother asked me, “Where did you grow up?” “Are you going to college?” and “What do you like to do?” The amusement in my life that this woman took was unlike anything I had witnessed. I began asking them the same sort of questions.
“I decided to become a house parent because I didn’t want to see a kid not receive any love,” she said. Her husband had similar reasons, “I come from a family of twenty-one children. It was hard for my parents to support and love each one of us. I wanted to become a house parent because I knew that is what I needed to do.” They both agreed when they said, “it just felt right.”
She went onto say, “The homes really do feel like homes to these children. When they imagine a loving home, they think of here.” Oxford Masonic’s website supports this, “The design of the newly built single-story homes is centered around family. The living, study, and kitchen area are all located in an open space in the center of the Home, facilitating an atmosphere of family.”
The Masonic Home was originally a school; however the school was converted into an orphanage to serve children that had lost parents during the war. Now, the orphanage can house up to 300 children if need be. Most children who are at the orphanage are between the ages of 13-17.
After we all ate dinner and mingled, the younger kids were getting eager to open their presents. On average, each child received five or six gifts, and children over 13 received one hundred dollar gift cards.
The money that funded my new sweater was the same amount that, according to the children, was one of the best Christmases that they have ever had. I was sad to finally leave the orphanage and the children that taught me how love exists even in the worst circumstances.
I put my four hours of volunteer work down at the Masonic Home on my college applications wishing that colleges knew exactly what went into those enlightening four hours.