It was about fifteen minutes before our final performance, and all of the teachers were standing in front of 57 excited, nervous teenagers, trying to give them some last minute words of wisdom and express to them, if we could, just how proud of them we were. As the last teacher to talk, I had each of the students give themselves a hug and take a deep breath, explaining to them that being nervous before a show is a good thing. As soon as I finished talking, one of the students caught my eye.
This boy was the kind of teenager you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find at an arts summer camp. During the first half of camp, he had been very “cool”, and we had a hard time getting him to participate fully. Only during the last few days had he begun to open up a fraction. This young man caught my eye and held up his hands, clasped in a yoga mudra (hand gesture) that I had taught a week or so earlier during a relaxation elective. It was in that moment that it hit me: these students were taking everything in. The moments of silly dance parties in the hallways, the songs, rhymes, dances, drama exercises; the students weren’t missing a beat. Even those that seemed distant were absorbing everything like sponges. Though I loved just about every second of my volunteer experience, this was the instant when I realized how important the work was, and how much these students were teaching me about taking risks, opening up, and having courage.
– Elisabeth Rainer, AIA 2011 Volunteer