Bank of America’s Student Leaders program helps connect 225 community-minded high school juniors and seniors to employment, skills development and service. Partnerships with Communities In Schools of Jacksonville gives these young people a path for success and creates thriving local communities that champion opportunities for the next generation.
This reflection was written by our Summer 2017 Bank of America Student Leader, Katherine Carlo
From the moment I walked into Woodland Acres Elementary on the first day of summer camp and saw dozens of shining young eyes looking up at me, each pair eager for a new friend, I knew I was going to have a life-changing summer. This summer, I worked with forty kindergartners and first and second graders, many of them coming from broken homes and bereft of a parental role model. Experiencing the friendliness of the kids and the quickness of which they became attached to me was humbling. In return for my friendship, the kids often opened up about their home life and challenges they were dealing with. Although the children may not have fully understood some of what was going on, I could tell they each carried a sense of loneliness from their home life and thus made it my personal mission to give each of the campers the attention they lacked. Working so closely with these kids taught me great patience and problem-solving skills, as having forty young elementary students vying for your attention requires. Additionally, this experience pushed me out of my comfort zone as I dealt with children fighting over fidget spinners or crying due to homesickness. Dealing with each of these situations stimulated my personal growth as I had to think quickly to resolve these conflicts. On the last day of camp, I made each of the kids I worked with promise to work hard in school this year, and if they remember only one thing from this summer, I hope it is this promise they made to me.
From morning class to afternoon enrichment activities and field trips, each day at Woodland Acres was packed with fun, adventure, and learning. The generosity of the teachers and staff who gave up their summers to serve the campers astounds me, and I am especially thankful for Mrs. Bacon. Assisting Mrs. Bacon in her classroom enabled me to learn from her excellent leadership skills. She knew how to deal with even the most difficult child and genuinely took an interest in each kid’s life. Additionally, I greatly enjoyed spending time and forming bonds with each kid I worked with. A story I find particularly inspiring involves a first grader named Imani who is missing half of one of her arms. One day at lunch while I was peeling oranges for other campers, a young girl told Imani that she could never peel an orange because she was missing half of her arm. This comment made Imani determined to peel an orange, and so she grabbed one from me and started peeling. Although it took her ten minutes, she never gave up and succeeded. I am so grateful that I was able to experience this moment as it taught me to approach each problem I have with the same tenacity as Imani.
The Bank of America Student Leaders Summit was an eye-opening experience, and I am extremely grateful to Bank of America for enabling me to meet not only the plethora of speakers who already have changed the world, but the next generation of young leaders who will. During the action-packed week of the summit, I met leaders in the government, business, and non-profit worlds, which expanded my knowledge of how these sectors are interconnected. My favorite sessions were Eva Vega’s Love Has No Labels workshop and the viewing of clips from Ken Burn’s new Vietnam documentary. Vega’s workshop taught me how to recognize and halt my bias while she told humorous and captivating stories from her own life. Burn’s documentary both haunted and stunned me as I learned different war experiences from all sides of the conflict. Another workshop I found especially impactful was the LIFTopolis simulation, which opened my eyes to the hardships impoverished people face. Additionally, I was able to meet with Congressmen John Rutherford in his office on Capitol Hill. At this meeting, we had a valuable discussion about how he aimed to lower juvenile crime rates in Jacksonville during his time as sheriff and his current plan for improving Jacksonville through his work in the House of Representatives. This summit also enabled me to meet like-minded young people who already have made an impact in their communities and now are focusing on how they want to change the world. I formed life-lasting bonds with many of my peers and continue to communicate with them. The varied paths these students took to become a Student Leader are extremely interesting and inspiring, and I enjoyed hearing about the passions of each and every person I met. Overall, I have great gratitude towards Bank of America for seeing my leadership potential and organizing this summit that has given me the tools I need to change the world.