Don’t Keep it Simple

Stacey Porter, LITE Coordinator at Oak Cliff

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.”

– Galatians 6:9 (The Message) 

In 2011, my life was changed forever by my experience at Project Transformation. I worked with elementary students at Wesley-Rankin Community Center, which led me to apply for Teach for America. From 2012-2014, I taught 9th grade in Montgomery, Alabama.

In the spring of 2014, I received a message from Janalee, the Project Transformation volunteer coordinator. She wanted to know what I was doing with my summer after I was finished with my TFA commitment. She explained that there was an opening to be a LITE (LITE stands for Leader In Training Experience) coordinator, where I would work with 10th-12th graders who volunteered with the elementary students in the morning and had their own college and career readiness programming in the afternoon.

At first, I was hesitant. I had spent two years teaching high school students, and I knew the challenges of working with this older age. I had also planned on having a relaxing, and simple summer before I started graduate school in the fall. However, the summer of 2011 was an incredible experience, and I knew that Project Transformation was brought back in my life for a reason. So, I accepted a position as one of the two LITE coordinators at Oak Cliff UMC and prepared myself for another summer working with high school students, which I assumed would be very similar to the students I worked with previously. I could not have been more wrong.

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I knew that Project Transformation was a transformational program, but I didn’t realize the full impact of the program until I met the high school students in the LITE program. Most of these students had been in the program since elementary school. On the first day, in the morning, the LITEs were split up into different rotations to volunteer with the elementary kids. I was worried because I had never met the LITEs and didn’t know if they were going to goof off instead of volunteer. I visited each rotation several times, and every time, I was so excited to see the LITEs not only helping the kids, but being leaders and even helping the interns get to know each kid better. I knew from this day forward that not only could I trust my students, I could rely on them to be an integral part of the program. The LITEs loved coming up with new ideas, and helping in ways beyond the simple expectations set for them.

This summer has been so much less about watching myself grow, and so much more about learning from the LITEs. I have learned so many lessons from my LITEs, but the most important have been about servant leadership. Each day, I watch my students selflessly serve kids by reading with them, playing with them, serving them lunch, and helping them learn. One of my favorite days with the LITEs was when they planned two afternoon activities for the kids. One activity they planned was a glow in the dark obstacle course. I was skeptical of this activity at first and tried to encourage the LITEs to “keep it simple.” However, their determination to provide an incredible activity for the kids won out and they made one of the most memorable activities of the summer.

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Their attitude about this activity inspired me in thinking about my attitude toward what I want to do with my life. I have finished my commitment with Teach for America and to be honest, I am very tired. At the beginning of the summer, I thought many times that it would be nice to just get a simple job that didn’t require a lot of extra effort and that didn’t require me to feel let down when the goals that I’m passionate about don’t get met. However, after seeing the passion of my LITEs — their unbridled creativity, their constant willingness to jump in and help, and their joyful servant leadership — I know that “keeping it simple” is not an option for me. I need to continue to use my passions to fuel creative solutions to the problems in this world. 

I thought that I could not be transformed any more than I was in 2011. However, the LITE program has given me 15 new leaders to inspire me to grow and transform to be a better leader in my community and in this country. I am in awe of  their passion and humility, as well as their leadership skills. The LITEs have taught me that the simple solutions are not always the best, and that instead you should utilize creativity and passion to make the world a better place for our children.

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