Volunteer Perspective: Reflection on MLK Day from Calvert School 8th Grader

January 31st, 2017

Gib Smith, an 8th grader at Calvert School, delivered the following speech to her entire school community – 700+ students and teachers – after volunteering at Paul’s Place on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We were inspired by her insightful and positive reflection on her experience here and what makes Paul’s Place so special. We want to thank Gib, her parents, and the Calvert School for permission to share her words with you.

Good morning faculty and students. I am honored to be speaking at our all-school assembly in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King. I would like to thank Mrs. Lears and Mr. Parker for guiding me through the reflection process.

For the past three years on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have volunteered at Paul’s Place. For those of you who do not know what or where Paul’s Place is, it is a program in the Pigtown section of Baltimore that provides services to the homeless and impoverished. They serve food, give away clothes, and the toys we all brought in for the toy drive, some of them went to the kids at Paul’s Place. The people at Paul’s Place are working to bring better healthcare, education, and housing to those who live in poverty in Southwest Baltimore City.

The first time I went to Paul’s Place, I was not sure what to expect and I was honestly scared. I was going by myself and I did not know what we were going to be doing. But, the day came and off we went. I did not even know where Paul’s Place was so I just sat nervously on the bus, wondering what was to come. When we got there, I was surprised to see how many other schools were there. Of course, they were all in high school, which only added to my anxiety. The first thing we did was introduce ourselves. We went around and said our name and how many times we had been to Paul’s Place. I remember dreading my turn and when it was my chance to introduce myself, I am pretty sure I barely squeaked out my name. This was my first time at Paul’s Place. I was just relieved when no one asked me to repeat my name because I get that a lot.

Next, we were all assigned jobs and my job was to bus tables. “Easy enough” I thought to myself because I didn’t think I would have to interact with anyone. But, as time went by, I found myself talking to the people who came in and having conversations. I remember this little girl who was REALLY excited about her Elsa dress and honestly, I would have been too. We talked about Frozen for a while and she was so happy even though her situation might not have been the best. After busing tables for a while, I moved to holding the door. You may think that holding the door is not the best job, but this is what keeps me coming back each year. The man who is in charge explained to me and another girl that not being able to provide for yourself or your family is something that can strip you of your dignity and make you lose pride in yourself. So, just by holding the door and greeting these people, you are showing them that you respect them and acknowledge them. This is something that I remember each time I go back. And, something I urge you to remember if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

The second time I went to Paul’s Place, I was just as nervous as before. You would think I would be okay because I knew how it was going to go. Nope, still nervous. This time, we were sorting through clothes and putting together toiletry kits. I’m sure we all remember last year when school was out for three days because of the snow storm and we all got to drink hot chocolate and go sledding. I know I went out and played in the snow with my friends. But, imagine not being able to go back inside to get away from the cold and not having that big coat. The clothes donated to Paul’s Place were going to improve someone’s winter because though the snow may be a way for us to miss school and just hang out, it is not a blessing for others.

I think that what makes Paul’s Place so special is that it challenges us by bringing us face-to-face with those less fortunate. It is about proximity, not just helping others from afar but seeing people for who they really are and seeing the impact you are making on their lives. Dr. King believed in the value of proximity and not leading from afar. Dr. King was always standing strong with his followers, setting the example for others to see. One example of this is the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. The focus of this march was to raise awareness for the resistance to black voters registering in the South. The marchers were met with violent resistance from authorities and were unable to pass through to Montgomery. Even in those terrifying situations, Dr. King stood by his followers. Faced with arrest and brutality, he did not flee when the going got tough.“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” is what Dr. King would say. This is the definition of leading with proximity because Dr. King did stand strong in those times of challenge and controversy. Had Dr. King not been the leader he was, one that believed in being present, things may not be the way they are today. That is why we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We celebrate to honor his impact on our country. We celebrate to honor his enduring and selfless leadership. 

Last year Ms. Powell from Paul’s Place spoke at a middle school assembly. She recalled a story from Robert Louis Stevenson told that really resonated with me. The story was of a boy 100 years ago who was very sickly and had to spend much of his time in his room. One night, he saw a man in the street, lighting the street lamps by hand. He exclaimed “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”. That is what Paul’s Place is to so many people; A beacon of light in what seems like never ending darkness. Someone to turn to for help. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. was to his people; A beacon of light in the seemingly never ending darkness. Thank you.

Paul’s Place relies on volunteers to offer a wide variety of high-quality programs. Volunteers serve meals, offer clothing to those in need, mentor kids and job seekers, and much more. Paul’s Place can accommodate children as young as 6 and groups with 10-12 persons. Volunteer opportunities are available Monday-Friday year-round, and pre-registration is required. To learn more, contact Jayna Powell.