Chain Reactions is a series of stories about students who were impacted by an experience that they went into expecting to make an impact on others. Northview is a community of helpers and in this section we will highlight a few stories depicting that.
Five years ago, senior Madison Sova was asked by her grandpa, coach of a Special Olympics basketball team, to be his assistant coach.
Special Olympics is an organization where individuals of all ages with intellectual disabilities are able to participate in sports as athletes, highlighting their abilities, rather than their disabilities.
As assistant coach to a Special Olympics basketball team, Sova worked with a team of adult basketball players in the organization.
“I thought it would be weird,” Sova said. “I never really had experience with people with special needs, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
Regardless, she agreed to volunteer, expecting to be an assistant coach for only one season.
Sova created connections with the team members, both on the court and off. She quickly fell in love with the contagious, positive energy of her team.
Unable to resist the opportunity to create even more connections, Sova decided continue assistant coaching for a second season for the Special Olympics team.
The experience of working with people with mental disabilities, people who are traditionally seen as outsiders, has greatly impacted Sova.
“I learned how to respect people more,” Sova said, commenting that the respect she gained for others was one of the most valuable and lasting things the season gave her.
Sova discovered a newfound passion for the people that she was working with by the end of her second season.
She now has five seasons of assistant coaching under her belt and anticipates becoming a head coach for the first time in January 2018.
Sova’s work through Special Olympics has affected many people with disabilities in big ways, but she’s not going to stop there.
“I decided to make a career out of it,” Sova said. “After the second year, I knew that I wanted to go into teaching special education.”
Despite entering the season unsure of what to expect, coaching for Special Olympics basketball has changed Sova’s life.
Imagine being locked in a school building, behind metal security doors, with no power, no swept floors, and no means of protection. In the small town of Esquinela, Guatemala, there aren’t any signs of modern American life.
Yet, within the building, local children dance in the dark with foreigners who come from hundreds of miles away. Together they sing, they laugh, they pray, and they cry.
This was how senior Caitlin Dahlin spent her 2017 summer. Along with her church, she traveled to Esquinela on a mission trip to help build roads, buildings and bridges.
“It’s a town where there’s no electricity, we had to have a police escort just to get in because it’s so dangerous,” Dahlin said.
But the danger never stopped her from wanting to help those less fortunate than her. This last mission trip to Guatemala was the second she has participated in; but Dahlin has done more than build up small towns.
“A lot of what we’re doing is loving on children that don’t get loved on at home and feeding bellies,” Dahlin said.
She doesn’t have to leave the country to make a difference either.
Dahlin volunteers in Grand Rapids between two and five hours each week. Much of her volunteering consists of helping tutor children in English at the Refugee Education Center, but she also keeps her eyes open for opportunities through her church and the National Honor Society.
“I’ve really been an outlet for a lot of kids,” Dahlin said about working with local children.
And she’s not stopping there. Dahlin has plans for the future, including volunteering through World Mission, and a mission trip to Haiti over spring break. She is also heading to Australia in July in order to obtain her Primary Healthcare Certificate. Dahlin will then put her training to good use in Papua New Guinea, giving basic medical care to the many people who need it.
While in Australia and Papua New Guinea, Dahlin won’t see her friends or family for a whole year.
“I know that this is what I want to do. I’m ready,” Dahlin said. If everything goes her way, she plans to eventually become a PA and live outside of the US, bringing care to third world countries.
“You’re never too important to help people,” Dahlin said. “If you knew me freshman year, I was not the best person, and [the children I’ve worked with have] definitely softened my heart.” This is exactly why, even while working a part time job, and taking some of the most difficult classes in the school, Dahlin always puts her maximum amount of effort into her volunteering.
“Always remember that just 30 minutes can really help someone,” Dahlin said.
My life changed in one month. A month filled with caring for the environment, meeting new people, and challenging myself in ways I have never been challenged before. Unlike a lot of my friend’s first jobs, mine was spent in Yellowstone National Park, 1529.6 miles from home, as an enrollee of the Youth Conservation Corps. Going into this job, I thought I was going to help preserve the environment, little did I know it would significantly change me as well.
The first of many challenges started June 11 at 7am in the morning, when I board my first flight alone. I had to figure out things by myself, which I have done before, but seems much scarier when a simple mistake, like not having the right gate to your flight, could cause so many problems. Worried about my next connections, I spent my first flight watching the screen displaying the progress of the airplane. Every centimeter it moved on that tiny screen on the back of the seat in front of me, I witnessed. I was met a lot of new faces once I reached the Youth Conservation Corps campus, where I would be staying for the next month. At first I was hesitant to meet so many strangers. But I soon started bonding with a lot of people from all over the country.
The next couple weeks moved fast as the staff threw us into training and then into our first official work week. I learned a great deal about myself in the time I spent in Yellowstone. Most of the work we did was physically demanding. I swung a lot of axes, peeled bark off of a lot of logs, hauled a lot of heavy dirt bags, and dirtied a lot of work shirts. It taught me that not only am I physically stronger than I thought, but mentally as well. I had to endure a collection of hot and sweaty work days, never allowing the heat to impact my attitude towards the others in my work group. I started showing leadership: not waiting for someone to tell me what to do, I would tackle the task immediately as it presented itself. If a coworker was struggling with carrying a log, I would help. If someone needed to hike back a mile to grab a tarp, I would volunteer. No longer was I a girl who was afraid of losing my seat in an airport to go get food, afraid to make a wrong decision leading to more issues. I was now someone who confidently completed tasks, and when I made a blunder, I recovered and learned from my mistakes.
My experience at Yellowstone working for the Youth Conservation Corps allowed me learn about myself and the environment around me. I learned how to be a leader and let my walls down to meet new people, with whom I still keep in contact months after the program ended.