Written by Stephonie Rodgers, Second Year AmeriCorps member proudly serving on the Baton Rouge College Prepartory School.

I’d like to take the time to tell you all why I serve. Actually, I’d like to tell you why I’m choosing to serve another year as an AmeriCorps member. I want to start by telling you a little bit about myself. My name is Stephonie Rodgers and I’m 23 years old. I am a graduate from Louisiana State University where I majored in sociology and communication studies. Immediately after graduating from college, I packed my bags and moved to New York City where I served with City Year at a middle school in the South Bronx.

Everyday I walked the halls of that school and saw bits and pieces of myself in each of my students. In fact, it was the first time that I’d come in such close contact with my younger self. My students came to school everyday carrying bags full of intangible issues. These were issues they didn’t dare speak of outside of their homes. They carried feelings that they weren’t allowed to touch and they replaced these feeling with books and homework. They covered their scars with laughter and day after day, I was marveled at how resilient they were. As a AmeriCorps member, I had the honor of simply listening to my students. They trusted me to, not only listen, but to hear them speak to me about the problems that they burry deep down in their book bags.

One day, during 8th grade lunch, I sat down with a student to laugh, joke, and see how her day was going. In the midst of our conversation, she grabbed my arm, looked me in my eyes and said, “Ms. Stephonie, how have you been doing?” Perplexed by her question, I suddenly felt tears swelling in the back of my eyes. Of all my years as a student walking the halls, no one ever asked me that question. No teacher ever stopped and asked me how I was feeling. No one ever inquired about my home life. Everyone assumed I was fine because I was quiet. Deep down in my bag, under all my homework and books was a pain that I never had a chance to talk about. No person in my school had ever taken the time to hear me. Still stunned by her question, I took a deep breath. I then looked back at her and I said, “You know what, I’m not okay.” I felt myself crawl back into my adolescent body and we empathized with one another. It is this pivotal moment in which I dedicate my service.

I serve because, too often, our kids' words are falling on deaf ears. I serve because healing starts only when hearing begins. I serve to teach children that hiding emotions does not constitute strength and vulnerability does not decrease their value. I serve because being quiet does not mean we’re okay. I DO NOT serve to save kids; I serve because these kids saved me, so I’m serving again. Our kids want to be heard and I’m here to listen even if I don’t know the answers. I serve for that one kid in the back of the class who feels like no one cares. I serve because all I ever needed was someone who cared enough to ask me, “Stephonie, what’s at the bottom of your bag?” I’m serving again because my kids hear me too…and that’s a beautiful thing. 

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