Professor Orefield hands me a pamphlet. “And here’s the guidelines for your volunteer project.”

“Volunteer?” I find myself shaking my head. I’ve never liked volunteering. “I don’t have time for that.”

“I’ve heard that one before.” My academic advisor grins at me, almost in a mischievous smirking sort of way. “I’d be happy to recommend an organization. This city is teaming with places that need your help.”

I hesitantly take the paper from his hand and sigh. “What if I choose not to do it?”

He gave me a sad shake of the head. “It’s a graduation requirement.”

I sigh. Of course it is.

“I think you’ll be surprised how similar the people in this community are to you,” he says suddenly.

This community? The alley ways, the graffiti, the dark streets where drug deals and muggings happen?

“They’re the same as you. Same kind of broken.” He chuckles to himself. “That’s a song by Jason Castro. Ever heard of it?”

I shake my head, only half listening. I stare at his office wall clock.

“Well, thanks, I guess,” I say. “I need to get going.”

By the next month, I had coordinated my volunteer time with a local homeless shelter. Professor Orefield had recommended I go there, and so I went along with it. I didn’t have enough time to look for other opportunities, anyways.

I sit on the city bus on the way to my first time volunteer time slot. I cautiously sit next to a lady on crutches and pull out my homework. My British Literature reading is due in the morning. I open up to a poem by Jon Donne.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

I frown. Why couldn’t the poet just say what he meant? I didn’t have time to search for meaning. Yet I read on. My bus stop was coming soon.

“… Any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I slap the book closed and push past the crutches lady. My stop is here.

*                                          *                                         *

One year later

Hundreds of things happen in one year. Among those things, I now understand the meaning of Jon Donne’s poem. I also understand why Professor Orefield had mentioned Jason Castro.

I had been at the shelter all year. I finished my volunteer requirements, and I graduated last spring. Now I work at the shelter, as the co-director. I feel as thought my eyes have opened. I never realized how much alike all of us really are, until I really immersed myself into the work of the shelter. It doesn’t matter if we have a house to our name or not – the things inside us are the same.

Today is the day my best friend Kadie comes with me to work, since her training at the shelter starts today. Kadie is a senior in college, with only a few credits and her volunteer hours left to complete. When I suggested coming to the shelter, she half-heartedly agreed.

We pull into the parking lot, and she stares. “This is it? This is where you spend all of your time?”

I admire the rundown building. “Yep,” I say. “Isn’t it great?”

She sighs. “I don’t get why I have to do this. I don’t have time.” She looks at me for sympathy, but I just grin.

“We’re the same – you, me, and the people inside this building,” I start.

“What?”

“Have you ever heard the song Same Kind of Broken by Jason Castro?” I ask. She shook her head, and I shut off my car. “Google it when you get home.”

“I don’t have time,” she whines.

“Don’t worry. It’ll all be worth it.” Kadie is my best friend; has been for years. Sometimes she needs tough love. She needs to be challenged just as I do.

“I don’t see how,” she persists. “I’ve done this volunteer stuff before. I know what it’s like; it’ll just be the same.”

I can’t help smirking. She is going to learn more, grow further and experience far greater things than she could imagine. She has no idea what she was getting herself into.

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