"I have learned to not focus on the problems or the challenges in life, but instead, focus on the solution to the problems or challenges."
Chaka Thomas, 37, of Webb, MS, works with volunteer youths in her community.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Chaka: I volunteer with youth at my church and in my community.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Chaka: Pleasant Valley M.B. Church in Clarksdale, MS.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Chaka: This project is a ministry of youth who not only are reached out to, but who reach out themselves to others such as the elderly, sick, and people in nursing homes, mental health centers, etc. We meet once a week for approximately 3 hours. First, we conduct a knowledge-based class, and then we go out into the community to reach out to others. We also do community clean-up, we adopt families for holidays, and several other community services. Myself, youths, parents, schools, churches and the community benefit from this project.
What inspired you to get involved?
Chaka: What inspired me to get involved was the fact that I started out as a youth in a program where individuals would reach out to me, giving me the desire to do the same.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Chaka: I first got involved when I was 16 and became a teen helper in a youth program that works with kids from the ages of 9-13, teaching them about the different types of abuses and how to abstain from them. After three years of working in that program, I then became a reading tutor for kids from grade k-7, teaching them how to read and comprehend what they have read. Next, I became a volunteer teen mentor for my entire school district.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Chaka: I was a troubled youth who got into a lot of trouble. I continued to get suspended from school because of fighting and constant misbehavior. All of my teachers and my parents/family had almost given up on me. When I turned 16, the manager of the Keep Kids Safe Program, knowing my reputation for fighting and getting in trouble, allowed me "one" chance to prove myself worthy of changing. Though it has been more nine years later, I am still proving myself with that "one" chance.
What is/was the hardest part?
Chaka: The hardest part is coming in contact with youth who totally resist help, and who refuse to let others reach out to them.
What was the biggest surprise?
Chaka: My biggest surprise was when I realized how many people recognized the work that I do, and getting support from unexpected people.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Chaka: I have learned that youth are so much more special than I thought. They have so much more information, advice, creativity, and wonders inside them. All they need is a special push and motivation to do those things to which they desire. Through my experience, I have learned to not focus on the problems or the challenges in life, but instead, focus on the solution to the problems or challenges. And if I can't do everything, just doing something is good enough.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Chaka: Giving back is a great and grand opportunity for those who choose to do so. It makes me feel especially good knowing that I am giving back all and more that has been given to me. I realize that the impact of my outreach to others not only allows me to be a team leader in my community, but it also allows me to be a team player as well; because as many youth as I reach and help to save from the path of destruction, that number will double or even triple when that youth reaches out to someone. So getting involved makes your world of outreach even more beautiful when you seriously get involved with it.
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