The Will to Serve

She Made a Difference

I had high expectations, a new grade level, a new reading program, a summer of preparation behind me, and thirty-three, high-spirited fourth-grade students in a room built for twenty-five.

We worked hard and made progress, but each night I carried increasing weariness and stacks of papers home with me.

Then one day after school, a student’s grandmother entered my classroom, waving the letter I’d sent home in hopes of finding volunteers willing to help us.

Wearing a flowered house dress on a stout body and tilting forward from the waist on her orthopedic shoes, she sailed into my classroom like a handsome profile on the prow of a ship: all business and on the move.

clip-art-freeEighty-years old with shining eyes above a prominent nose, she briskly shook my hand and assured me she’d be in my room every day for any two hours I wanted, on time and ready to work. She’d raised too many kids to be scared of them. She could be of use; she was ready to start, and “Y’all can call me Miz Esther.”

Oh, how we loved her.

I watched and listened the first day as she completed the tasks I had described: She began by circulating among the children as they worked, applauding and helping; she then listened to individuals read: laughing and chatting with them about the story, ignoring slowness, hesitancy, and minor errors, while praising victories. Next, she checked and approved assignments students brought to her or sent them to their seats with suggestions on how to improve: always with a smile, sometimes, when needed, with a hug.

I relaxed, worked with small groups or individuals with complete concentration, and knew we had a treasure.

All year my students circled in her sunshine. We relied on her, and she met all challenges, even playing the bit part of a grumpy baker in a play we produced, shaking a rolling-pin and grumbling with conviction.

For two years, she graced my classroom with her presence, her only pay being smiles, notes, hugs, and small gifts from appreciative children.

Then the August day came when I learned from her daughter that her mom wouldn’t be returning to school that fall. As the children she had worked with shopped for back-to-school clothes, she died, surrounded by her large, loving family.

I attended her crowded funeral and reflected on her patience, her generosity, and her will to serve: to help others, to make my classroom a place of increased learning opportunities; to be of use.

The students and parents sprinkled among the mourners proved the worth of those efforts. Their young faces looking unusually  solemn, the children she had hugged and helped, said good-bye to Miz Esther.

Have a volunteer experience to share?
Please leave a response below.

Summary of Comments on “Building My Brain with Books”
How happy I am to know that my blog friends feel as passionately about reading as I do, have shared many of the same experiences, and treasure several of the same books. Their comments are too detailed and interesting to do justice to in a summary. Please give yourself a treat and return to the post to read what Lori, Jeannie, Becca, Audrey, and Mercy had to say.


4 thoughts on “The Will to Serve

  1. When I was young I had three small children and was looking for a way to add to family income. I was asked to supervise a 4H Christmas gift-wrapping booth at a mall. I was fully committed before I realized it was unpaid volunteer work. I would be paying daycare, using now even scarcer family money.

    I kept my word and worked 6 hours a day for three weeks, immensly enjoying the teen-age 4H members. Afterwards, I thought, “wow, that was crazy, how did I
    end up in that situation.”

    Two months later I was hired at the High School Library, with a 4H leader’s recommendation, “because I had worked so well with teen-agers”. As they say, the rest is history, and without exaggeration, that postion changed the direction of my life.

    Janet, I’ve hesitated to write because your beautiful words about Miz Esther are a loving eulogy and describe a very special person. “Always with a smile, sometimes, when needed, with a hug.”; “my students circled in her sunshine” “Oh, how we loved her.”

    I’ve answered your question about a volunteer experience but it feels almost sacrilegious to add a single word to your lovely post.


    • Mercy, I’m always looking for meaningful examples of the power of volunteering. May I have your permission to use this story in the future whether verbally or in my newspaper columns? And, better yet, would you consider writing a guest post for my blog sometime in the future, perhaps during national volunteer week which is April 6-13 this year? We could use your well-written and meaningful comment as is, or you could expand on it. Please, please, please.


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