Caroline O’Kane

Social class is often judged upon by the following criteria; money, possessions, and ranking. In our society today, so much of our life is focused on social ranking. There are those who actively try to climb the social ladder while there are others simply who seem to be at the highest status. In Westport, it seems that most people are privileged in some way. I’ve grown up being on the soccer team, traveling on vacations to Arizona, the Caribbean, and London, never giving much thought to social class. These activities and gifts are just part of my life. However, over the last few years, I have come to realize that there are people who do not have these privileges. That is when I began noticing different social classes. I am part of the National Charity League, a Mother / Daughter organization formed to do charity work throughout Fairfield County to benefit others who don’t have as much as we do.

We make dinner for the Gillespie Center, babysit at Bacharach Houses, homes owned by the town to help educate women with children, and so much more. However, out of all the philanthropies that I have been a part of throughout the years, the most influential experience for me has been tutoring children at the Caroline House in Bridgeport. After traveling a mere 7 exits on I-95 from Westport, one finds Bridgeport, Connecticut, a town so vastly different from Westport yet so close. Houses are packed elbow to elbow, each only spanning one room wide. There are no bright colors painting the houses, if there is any paint at all. A few blocks off the highway is a “home” called the Caroline House. Children and adults come daily to learn, play, and have a safe haven. With the National Charity League we are given the opportunity to help teach elementary and middle school students.

Over the summer I chose to tutor at the Caroline House. Seeing the kids show up at 9 o’clock each and every day ready to learn made me very proud to see young students with such a desire to learn, willing to give up their summer days to read, write, and practice math facts. After a few hours of learning in the morning, there would be snack and a recess break. As Sister Anne, a nun who runs the house, would give goldfish out, all the kids would take them eagerly and eat them as if they hadn’t had a similar bag just the day before. The protection they showed for what was given to them stood out to me after seeing the kids in both the Coleytown and Staples Cafeterias. Westport kids often buy a bag of goldfish to then leave it on the table, let others take a few, and when they feel satisfied throw away the remains. At Caroline House the kids ate every last fish, knowing their next snack might not be until the same time the next day. During the same snack break, we opened the doors to go outside.

The boys run ran around laughing and playing wallwith a ball as the girls played with chalk, making fancy creations of butterflies on the pavement. I clearly remember one girl sitting on the Little Tikes slide she had outgrown. She wore a homemade tie-dye shirt with jean shorts that were one size too big, with her skinny legs hanging out over the side of the slide. Blue, green, and yellow friendship bracelets ran up the length of her arm. Her big brown eyes were burrowed into the crease of her Magic Tree House book, glancing left and right though the words. , “reading” a Magic Tree House book. Upon walking over and asking what her book was about she replied saying she did not know, but she really wished she knew how to read the text.. This It especially touched me to see seeing a little girl holding a book, that inside of which existed its pages held an entire world that she wanted to join.

Throughout my entire elementary school education, I dreaded my 30 minutes of reading each night because I would much rather have been able to gogone outside and to bounce on the trampoline. I am glad my mMom made me stick with reading, often reading with me to help encourage me. RAs reading soon became almost second nature since we, after learn iting at such a young age as we do in the Westport school system., Wwe have fortunately never had to known what it is like not being able to explore the various worlds that books have to offertake us to. I am happy to try and instill the same in the children of Caroline House. After that conversation, I made it my project to teach this girl how to read. I felt compassion for her when she got frustrated, and I also felt proud of her for wanting to learn, especially in an environment where learning is not as much of a priority as it is here.

Looking back, today and everyday I am thankful for the strong education values and system along with the unconditional support from my family and teachers. I look back and see a younger version of myself and I don’t think at the time I understood the gift of reading that I was trying to give back to this little girl at the Caroline House. I try to remember each day to be appreciative of everything I have; I now know there is always someone that needs more than I ever will. It makes me realize that the children at the Caroline House are even lucky compared to others in America, and the world as a whole. This experience has taught me to try my hardest to be as nonjudgmental as I have come to realize that no matter who we are, some of us have more and some of us have less but should that define us as people?

The Caroline House in Bridgeport introduced me into a whole new life, that of children, some close to my own age, who lived a life so different than mine and anyone that I know, just 10 short miles up the road. I personally try to remember each day all the privileges we have and often take for granted. The most basic routines in our day to day in life are the things that can change peoples lives in ways that you would never understand unless you stepped into their lives. Despite my fortunate reality that I have grown so used to, I was brought into a world where I was surrounded by different people showing me a different class, making me vigilant to help even in the smallest ways to improve their future. I am grateful for this opportunity because as much as I teach the children of Caroline house, they teach me.

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