Academic Service-Learning Essay-Contest
Professor: Father John McKenna
Prof. Kathryn Shaughnessy
Hello and welcome to the St. John’s University Libraries Podcast
Series. Today we present Academic Service Learning Essay Contest
winner Valerie Salinas, a sophomore at St. John’s Queens campus.
Ms. Salinas reads here award winning essay about working with
conically ill children at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in
Bayside, Queens. Thank you and we hope you enjoy the podcast.
For my service-learning experience, I chose to go to St. Mary’s
Hospital for Children in Bayside, NY. After volunteering there for
several weeks, I do not think I could have chosen a better place to
do my service learning. This experience has helped me view life in
a different way; it made me think about how I treat others and how
I live my life.
Before my service-learning experience, I read Matthew 25: 31-46
and it helped me understand Jesus’ message about helping people. My
interpretation of Matthew’s passage did not change since I did my
service learning. If anything, it helped me better understand what
Jesus was saying, and I actually experienced how he felt when he
gave a little of himself to others.
This passage shows how Jesus considered all people to be
people of God. He said, “Whenever you did it for any of my people,
no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” Jesus is
saying that whenever someone does something good or shows kindness
to someone in need, he or she does it for him as well. He views
acts of kindness as ways of uniting the unlikeliest of people; the
more you help others, the more you will understand yourself and
live your life more completely.
Jesus also mentioned that, “Whenever you failed to help
any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed
to do it for me.” When most of your life is spent living only for
yourself and being concerned with everything you do for yourself,
then you start to live an empty life full of regret and
I learned a lot of important life values from my service-
learning experience. I worked with children between the ages of two
and six who had certain diseases or disabilities that prohibited
them from living simple, normal lives.
Sometimes people can be very selfish without even realizing it;
we go through life only caring about how everything will affect us
and we never stop to just think about others or how we can affect
their lives. As a 19-year-old, the world seems unfair at times;
school, love, friendships, problems, obstacles and all those other
little things are what we dwell upon because they seem so
important. Every day I spent at St. Mary’s, I thought about how
stupid all my problems were; I really learned to take a step back
and examine how I was living my life.
I must have interacted with several children day in and
day out in that hospital, but it took one little boy to change my
life. This two-year-old boy with lung disease became the highlight
of each and every day I spent volunteering there. Just seeing such
an adorable and precious kid with such a horrific problem made me
think about how unfair the world could be.
Many people out there are healthy and happy doing some of
the most horrible things and getting away with them, while here is
a hospital full of children who were not given a choice on how to
live their lives. They have been robbed of the simplicity and
joyfulness that comes with being a happy and healthy child.
The first day I volunteered at St. Mary’s, I felt so useless and
helpless; I remember I was ready to ask the director to put me in a
different department. I had chosen to be in the Toddler unit, where
the children were treated by the nursing staff and spent the
majority of their time just sitting in their cribs playing by
themselves or watching television.
I went in thinking I would have the opportunity to play
with the kids and take them to the park or walk them around; I did
not think I would have to work around the nursing staff. I felt
like such a burden just being there, as if I were interrupting the
flow of things and being a nuisance to all the people who were
treating the kids. I had never been in a hospital for a long period
of time, or had seen how people work around one another. I was
scared to ask anything of anyone, and I was terrified of doing the
wrong thing with the children for fear of accidentally hurting
them. I left with such disappointment that day, as if I had not
accomplished anything. I did not feel as if I had touched anyone’s
life and I felt my service there was unneeded and unnecessary.
Despite my horrible first day, I decided to keep going for the
sake of the kids. I went in with determination to make the
most of the time I spent with them. I remember talking to one of
the nurses about the first impression of my experience. She
told me not to care about anyone else but the kids; they were all
used to working around people and I was not a nuisance at all. I
told her I was thinking about volunteering in the recreation
department and she told me they have plenty of people there to
assist the kids. In the toddler unit, however, they hardly
had any people to interact with the kids. She told me that on some
days the kids stay in their cribs for the length of the day and
only come out to eat or to go to therapy.
It was not until she told me that, that I felt my presence was
appreciated. I thought about how the children needed people like me
to spend time with them and take their minds off being sick; they
just needed someone to help them feel like normal kids. I saw God
in every one of the children with whom I interacted. As a
result, I am very sure that God takes care of all of them. Every
time I saw a smile from the children, I could feel their love,
kindness and gentleness.
Matthew’s passage applies to my experience because the love and
compassion Jesus asks his people to give to others is the same love
and compassion I was asked to give to these kids. I would like to
think the children get something out of my being there, and that I
brighten up their day as much as they brighten up mine.
In my opinion, the meaning of the passage in Matthew can
be understood by anyone; it is not a hard concept to grasp. The
message is basically to love and treat everyone equally; to help
each and every person in any way you can—whether you see them as
important or unimportant. I do not think you need faith to
understand the meaning of Jesus’ message in this passage; you just
need to believe that by helping others your own life will be
You will find meaning in things you never thought could
mean anything to you. In this passage, Jesus tells his people
that whenever they showed kindness to a stranger or neglected to
help one, they offended and betrayed him. Just as whenever
people acted with kindness, Jesus felt the presence of God in them
I always thought the only way to communicate with children was
to speak to them clearly and to make them understand how to do
things or why they should do them; I was not aware that there were
other ways to actually reach them and get a message across to them.
Children are very perceptive and they see and understand everything
that goes on around them; they just do not always let you know they
do. Talking is not the only way to reach them; physical interaction
is the best way to communicate with them. It is true when they say
actions speak louder than words, because sometimes words cannot
express what you wish to say in the way you wish they could.
The two-year-old boy who captured my heart impressed me the
most. Every time I visited him in his crib he would say “uppey up,”
so I could pick him up and let him run around. I would walk him
around the hospital; sometimes I would have to chase him because he
ran so fast. The nurse also let me help her keep him occupied and
distracted while she treated him. I felt like an important part of
his life every time I visited him; he made every day I spent there
a worthwhile experience.
When you see little boys like that, with such big problems, it
really puts your own life into perspective. We complain when we
have problems and about how life can be unfair, and here is this
little boy who does not have the opportunity to live the simple
life that a kid should live.
I plan to continue volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospital for
Children; it has been quite an experience for me, and I hope I will
continue to learn something new each day I spend there. I can only
hope I will continue to follow the example Jesus gives in Matthew’s
Gospel and give my life a little meaning by reaching out to others.
I want to be a part of something meaningful; I want the chance to
make a difference. I want my small gesture to go a long way and
have the opportunity to touch the lives of these wonderful children
Prof. Kathryn Shaughnessy
That concludes this podcast. Bumper music is “Inspiration of Love”
by Joe Sibel courtesy of Podsafe Audio. We thank Valerie Salinas
and the Office of Academic Service Learning for sharing their time,
experience and talent for the greater community.