At my school, fifty hours of community service is a graduation requirement. At the beginning of this school year, when I was trying to figure out what to do to achieve them, I found the Julia Robinson Math Festival. I was less than thrilled by the idea of spending such a largeportion of my life with a group of strangers bringing math festivals to underserved communities.I, surprising as it may be, do not dislike math, in fact, it is one of my favorite subjects. However,this did not mean that I wanted to spend every weekend in the distant future talking about math. I decided to give it a shot, figuring that worst-case scenario I could just quit after a few months if I hated it, and at least do some good in the meantime.
After our first festival, my mind was completely changed. I had expected very little; thatthe kids would not have any interest in the puzzles, games, and activities we had planned, thatthey would all be there because they were forced to by their parents. I cannot say that these kidswould have been there if not for threats from their parents, but I can say they all were incredibly engaged, excited, and eager. Students at our tables with logic puzzles and games, including card tricks, mazes, adding games, etc. were so active, and seeing them learning, and enticed in this way totally influenced my perspective. I could see the difference I was making, and there was noway I was going to quit now. It is not like I have never made a difference before, but this felt different. Not only was I so involved in planning, a dozen of us meeting every weekend to brainstorm and prep, but the difference was visible immediately and I felt it would have a lasting effect.
I no longer plan on quitting anytime soon, and I am confident that all of my group members would say the same. As many of us went through this same transition, from simply fulfilling an obligation, which was different for each of us but nonetheless the leading reason for being there, to actually being invested in the outcomes of our festivals, the entire mood of our meetings changed. Cheesy as it may be, the hours flew as they transitioned from being low energy and slightly depressing to excitement-and-laughter filled. Something that I once thought I would dislike turned into such a fun, enriching experience. Everyone says it but I will say it again; you really never know what you will find when you try something new and give back to your community in any way you can.