Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Through the Eyes of a Child: Getting Things Done with Loretto Volunteer Program



Lilla Hassan, Loretto Volunteer Program
AmeriCorps Service Site: For the Love of Children (FLOC)

When you are young, everyone asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was a doctor. The person who I look up to as one of the most virtuous beings in my life is my father, and he is a doctor. I was born in a place that for centuries has been the center of religion and politics: Rome, Italy. My family is originally from Somalia, but my parents moved to Italy in their 20’s to attend medical school. When I was six, my family made the decision to move to the States in search of a better education for me and my two brothers. Even as a young child, I operated under the assumption that if I worked hard, any goal was well within my reach. However, my perception shifted dramatically after a single day working at For Love of Children.

For Love of Children (FLOC) is a non-profit organization that provides educational services beyond the classroom to help students succeed from first grade through college and career. Their goal is to see our students succeed in the classroom, successfully complete a post-secondary degree and thrive in the working world. All of our tutors are volunteers who teach students from the FLOC curriculum. During my time at FLOC, I have been deeply moved by watching students who attend failing schools go to great lengths to succeed, despite having the odds stacked against them. I have found a sense of satisfaction, to an extent that I could have never fathomed, in helping these students succeed in school.

I find it so intriguing to see that these children remain so unscathed by the limitations placed on them, not due to a lack of abilities, but because of their zip codes. In their eyes, the world is so pure, everyone is loving and caring and everyone is equal regardless of any differences. I have begun to see the world through a different lens due to their optimistic views on life.  Every day I am elated at their success as if they were my own. Each one of my kids has taught me something different, with perseverance being a common theme amongst them all. 

At the beginning of my service term, FLOC enrolled a third grade girl. She came to us way below her grade level in mathematics. She still had not grasped the basic concept of numbers. I worked with her and the tutor to prepare her to pass her numbers exam so that we could help her reach the appropriate learning level for her age. For months we were stuck and did not seem to be making any progress. One day, she came to me and said, “Ms. Lilla I want to test today. I have been practicing saying my numbers, and I think I can do it”.  Thirty minutes later, she came running down the hall with a slip of paper in her hand. She had finally done it! She had passed her test. She ran into my arms, and we jumped around chanting her name, other staff joining in as we celebrated her success.

At FLOC, I have never seen a group of staff so personally invested in their students’ success. We celebrate each child’s success as another step toward closing the education disparities amongst the minority population in Washington, DC.  Each time one of the kids I teach makes a stride closer to being at the appropriate academic grade level, each day we enroll another child into our program, each day I see the smile of hope in their parents’ eyes, and each day a parent calls and says that their child’s grades have dramatically improved— that’s when I know my placement is worth it. I am committed to correcting injustice by using education to help poverty-stricken children rise above the limitations placed upon them by society. It’s like an old African proverb my mother used to recite to me, “It takes a village to raise a child.” FLOC, for me, has become an example of that village.


Lilla is a graduate from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She relocated to Washington D.C. to take part in her service year with Loretto at FLOC. She currently works at Perry Street Public Charter school in Northeast, D.C.  as the family engagement coordinator and will be attending Trinity Washington University in the fall to pursue her M.Ed. 

The Loretto Volunteer Program pairs volunteers with social justice organizations for a formative year of service. Through meaningful work and communal living, volunteers live out the Loretto Community's mission to work for justice and act for peace - guided by the core values of social justice, community, simplicity and spirituality.