A reflection on superheros, community building and the impact of volunteering by Stacey James McAdoo
Freak accidents. Laboratory experiments. Genetic mutations. These are some of the most common ways superheroes get their powers. And then there are those who were born with them and who don’t discover them until they are placed in a unique situation or a different environment. Powers for others were bequeathed upon them after they passed a test or showed themselves worthy.
In Backyard Comics, Shero, the character made from my likeness is the strongest in its universe. She’s an alien goddess with extraordinary powers. In real life family and community have always been my source of strength. Watching my mother give back showed me that I didn’t have to wear a cape to make a difference. Growing up words like “volunteer,” “service learning” and “community service” were not a part of my lexicon. That’s not totally true, I was very familiar with the term “community service.” It just wasn’t associated with “academic resumes,” instead it was reserved for the people I knew who were assigned it by the courts.
When I was in school, I didn’t realize that the countless hours my momma gave to the Saving Station (an early 1990s BCD outreach ministry of Theresa Hoover United Methodist Church founded by Rev. Robinson for women who were recovering from addiction) beyond her regular 40+ hour work week at the hospital were considered volunteering. It was just what she did. I can remember going to the Saving Station residential house with her and watching her check blood pressure, look at/handle pill bottles, administer hygienic supplies and talk with the ladies. And although I had family living there, from the outside looking in it, was hard to tell who they were because momma treated all the ladies with the same level of respect and care.
Years later while watching Prozac Nation, a line in the movie that has since been attributed to Ernest Hemingway, echoed the lessons I had observed first hand as a child by way of visiting loved ones living in half-way homes and getting assistance from organizations like the Watershed, the Gyst House and Salvation Army’s Center of Hope Shelter. “Gradually, then suddenly,” is how almost everything happens. Substance abuse…mental issues… fiscal distress…weight gain…academic challenges…behavioral problems…they all typically start gradually, then suddenly spiral out of control.
While talking to students about choosing their careers, we often advise them to start with something they love. That advice should also be applied to what we tell them about volunteering and community service. Instead of focusing on how good it will look on their college application, that it’s a great resume builder or how every 75 hours will translate into one high school credit, let’s tell them the truth.
Tell them that if they choose wisely, they are not only helping to solve real-world/social justice problems but are also building skills that can’t be measured on a standardized test. Practical skills such as how to think on their feet, deal with stressful situations, overcome fears, think critically, improve communication skills and work with a team are just a few that immediately come to mind when I think of the many skills that my Writeous Poets and AVID students have developed by our volunteering.
Most of the students I teach (and in my district) come from humble beginnings. I often remind them of our old Little Rock Central High Freshman Academy motto, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.” I try to impress upon them that there is absolutely no shame in who they are or where they come from. Those are things they cannot control. But what they can control is how they learn from, react to and grow from those circumstances. Volunteering allows us to let go of ourselves and take hold of something bigger than ourselves. In my opinion, it is the most potent super serum to unleash one’s special powers.
Please leave a comment and share your superpower, super serum or source of strength.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 16 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*