Volunteering is the Opportunity of a Lifetime

Since his retirement eight years ago, Bob Mersereau has found his calling in the world of volunteerism.  He is a 19 time Citizen Teacher, having led apprenticeships at eight Citizen Schools partners schools. In addition,  Bob volunteers at Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and a local botanic garden. He is on the advisory committee for the Livestrong cancer survivor program at his local YMCA and is also an active member of the Aldrich Astronomical Society. I fell in love with the stars when I was six years old. Nearly sixty years later I was asked by two individuals, one from MIT and one from Harvard, to share that passion with young people from the inner city of Boston. They had just spent two years of their young lives developing a curriculum, in conjunction with the education nonprofit Citizen Schools, and were asking me to teach middle school students about the wonders of the heavens, following their lesson plans.

wow kidsIt was the underlying philosophy of Citizen Schools that ultimately convinced me to give this adventure a try – at the end of a ten-week classroom experience, the youngsters in the class would teach what they had learned to others. The ability and willingness to teach others what one has learned, relying on the confidence of personal experience, is the epitome of learning. I could not have agreed more and jumped in with both feet.

My first time leading the “apprenticeship” class was not easy for me so I asked to be able to do it again the next semester. Who would do this only once? Having fallen in love with Citizen Schools and the amazing results I have been a part of, it would be difficult for me to stop volunteering.

Recently I visited the restaurant that I will be bringing 14 children to visit next Thursday.  These children, in love with cooking as much as I am in love with astronomy, are my 19th apprenticeship class.  They will be cooking for as many as two to three hundred guests at their wrap-up event in May – explaining the science behind the pizza they have prepared.  Rest assured that the adults and children attending will be as interested in the students and their knowledge as they are in a free piece of pizza.

Those of us involved in Citizen Schools as Citizen Teachers teach experience – our passion for a subject makes it easy for us to share. The guidance that we receive from our staff partner, who helps us in the classroom, keeps the lesson plan on track – focused on that final event and the opportunity the children will have to share their newfound passion with others.

computersWe also teach confidence.  Watching ten-year-old youngsters captivate adults with their solid confidence in what they have learned – seeing how confidence allows these children to communicate and impress is wonderful.  At the end of my second apprenticeship, I watched a shy ten-year-old boy present his astronomy knowledge to my MIT mentor, taking him through the various steps he used to produce the images of galaxies that he was presenting.  After he was finished, a teammate of his approached him saying,  “You know, Carlos, you are getting good at this!”  Erick’s comment to Carlos was one of those moments you live for – Carlos beamed, I beamed.

These moments, although  cherished, are not rare.  I have seen the relationship between parent and child completely changed, as parents watch their children teach what they've learned at the end of the apprenticeship. I get thanked by parents all the time, but it is not me. It is that fundamental Citizen Schools philosophy of giving a youngster experience and confidence to teach others.

I encourage you to grab your passion and share it with middle school kids – 1.5 hours a week for ten weeks will transform you and the children you teach – and you will agree that for both you and the children, it is an opportunity of a lifetime.

Sign up to be a Citizen Teacher today!