“Good morning, Bridgeview High School! And what a fine morning it is!” Mrs. Garcia’s much-too-chipper-for-eight-in-the-morning voice rang throughout the whole building. It reminded Mia Scott of the hosts on Wake-Up San Fransisco, from the show Full House. “Well, first off, I’d just like to say a big congratulations to the Varsity girls’ volleyball team for their first place finish this season!” A few people in the class clapped and congratulated the few players from the team that were in the room.  

“There will be a celebratory pizza party in the cafeteria at lunch tomorrow! Again, I will repeat, this is only for the GIRLS’ volleyball team. Happy birthday to Mike Williams and Sofia Hall! Happy birthday to you- never mind, you probably don’t want to hear my singing voice. Most people don’t appreciate hearing a dying bird coming through the PA system! Well, let’s get back on track. The Mathletes will meet after school today. The Volunteer of the Year award will be awarded during the assembly. That’s all for today! Have a great one!”  

The bell rang shrilly a minute after the announcements had finished, signaling the end of homeroom, and that students should start to make their way to their period one class. Mia took her bookbag off the back of the chair and slung it over her shoulder. Mia got lost in the crowd heading up to the second floor.  

“Hey! Mia!” Even through all the noise, she could hear her name being called. She paused in the middle of the hallway, looking all around her to see who might have called her name, meanwhile, being jostled by the other students trying to get to class on time. “Mia! Hi.” Brooke, also known as the-star-of-every-sports-team-the-school-had-ever-had quickened her pace to walk beside her. “Do you want to hang out after school? We could go to the park, or something.” 

“Yeah, sure.” 

“We haven’t hung out in a while, because well, you know. I had volleyball, and basketball, and softball tryouts, and on top of all of that, I had to try not to fail the math test so that I wouldn’t be kicked off all those teams.” 

“If you looked up busy in the dictionary, your picture would be what showed up.” Mia joked.  

Brooke was unfazed by the comment. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to win Volunteer of the Year?” Mia shrugged. “Not that I would ever win it.” Brooke continued. “If I tried to volunteer for something, I’d officially have to give up sleeping.”  

The bell interrupted their conversation.  

“I’ve got to go! I’m late for Mr. Chapman’s class!” Mia shouted behind her as she jogged-at least as fast as you could jog in the hall, without a teacher calling you out- down the hallway.  

. . . 

“Sadly, the assembly will start in about ten minutes, so we won’t be doing a math class today.” Ms. Cormier stood at the front of the class, at the start of second period. 

“It’s so sad, I forgot to cry.” Logan, who sat next to Mia, muttered. Ms. Cormier was one of those people who you would call a “hand-talker”, meaning she made a LOT of overexaggerated hand gestures while speaking, making her the subject of many of the jokes made by students. 

“Could everyone please line up at the door and we will go down to the auditorium.” it should have been a question, but she said it more like an order. Mia had always liked Ms. Cormier. She was the one who had helped Mia to learn to love math. Unlike Brooke, she didn’t have to worry about failing a math test, for two reasons. Reason number one was that even if she did fail, she would not be kicked off any sports teams, simply because she did not belong to any sports team. Reason number two was that Mia could practically do the equations with her eyes closed.  

The auditorium was only half-full when they filed in through one of the many doors leading to the huge room, completed with a stage and big, thick velvet curtains. Mia spotted Brooke sitting with a group from the volleyball team. Brooke motioned for her to come over. Mia sat down in the empty seat next to Brooke, right next to the aisle. She sank into the cushioned chair.  

“Is everyone coming in here just to hear one award being announced?” Mia whispered to Brooke.  

“Pretty much, yeah. But if it means I can miss science class, I’m all for it.” 

The crowd went almost silent as Mr. Kennedy strolled out to the middle of the stage, where a podium stood. In one hand, he held a small glass trophy, in the other, a microphone.  

“Hello everyone. How are you all doing today?” Everyone in the crowd cheered. Mr. Kennedy was not the stereotypical kind of principle that you would expect. He always got everyone excited. He was the fun teacher, even if he wasn’t technically a teacher.  

He continued when the crowd had died down. “Today, I am here to award the worthiest student in this school with Volunteer of the Year. Volunteering is not something everyone does. It is something that some people could go their whole lives without doing, without even thinking of it. Volunteering isn’t something you do for yourself. Volunteering is something you do for the wellbeing of others. And so, with that, I am honored, as the principal of this school, to award the Volunteer of the Year to...” he paused for dramatic effect. Slowly, Mr. Kennedy reached into a small envelope that he held in his hand and pulled out a small slip of paper. He cleared his throat. “I am proud to present Volunteer of the year to... Mia Scott!”  

Brooke let out a small gasp and squealed, turning to her right. “That’s you! Mia, you won!” 

Mia just sat there with a dazed look on her face. Why had she won? Why her, of all people? There were so many other people she knew who volunteered their time every day who deserved this award. Brooke waved her hand in front of her face.  

“Earth to Mia! Hellooo?”  

Mia absently began to rise out of her seat, and Brooke pushed her the rest of the way into the aisle.  

“Come on!” Mr. Kennedy encourages. “Don’t be shy!” He waited patiently for her to walk up the steps to the stage, then handed her a second microphone. “Okay, now before I hand you this award, would you like to come up to the podium, and say a little something? 

“Say something?” Mia repeated nervously.  

“Yeah, just something about volunteering.”  

“Okay... well, um...” Mia stepped up to the podium.  

“Why don’t you tell us about the first time you volunteered?” He suggested.  

“Okay. Well, the first time I volunteered was...”  

When was the first time she had volunteered?  

Four years earlier... 

“Excuse me?”  

The lady who was standing at the front counter glanced up from the newspaper she was reading. “Visiting hours are over. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” 

“Uh, we’re not here to visit anyone. We don’t even know anyone who lives here.”  Mia’s mother admitted. “We’re here to volunteer.” She gestured toward 11-year-old Mia, who was standing beside her.  

The lady perked up. “You’re here to volunteer? We haven’t had a volunteer her age in well, I can’t even remember when.”  

“Well, you can put us right to work!” Mrs. Scott exclaimed. 

“Okay, just follow me, and I’ll show you where you can start.  

. . .  

“So, Mia, I’ll have you start with Mr. Sullivan. You can bring him his lunch and help tidy up his room a bit.” She handed her a tray, holding a container with soup in it, some cornbread, and a container of cut up carrots. After being pointed toward Mr. Sullivan’s room, she knocked on the door three times.  

“Who’s there?” demanded a gruff voice from the other side of the door. 

“Um,” Mia started nervously. “My name is Mia. I have your lunch.”  

“Fine. Come in.”  

Mia pushed the door open with her foot, balancing the tray carefully in her hands. The door led to a room not much bigger than a hospital room, containing a double bed, a bedside table, a small couch and an armchair, a TV, and a few other oddities. Mr. Sullivan gestured for her to place the tray on the small table next to the armchair that he currently occupied.  

“Would you like me to straighten up the room a bit?”  

“Doesn’t matter to me.”  

Mia spent the next half an hour tidying up the room, stacking empty coffee cups to take down to the kitchen, clearing the junk that had accumulated on the small table next to the armchair, and even opening the window to let in some fresh air.  

“There,” she said when she was finished, standing in the middle of the room. “Isn’t that better?”  

The beaming smile she got from Mr. Sullivan was all the answer she needed.  

. . . 

“Again, I can’t thank you enough for coming in today!” The lady, who she now knew as Barbara, exclaimed as Mia and her mother turned in their volunteer's name tags. “We’ve never had a volunteer as invested as you are! The Hopewell Retirement Center is happy to have you! I hope you’ll come back sometime soon!”  

“We will! Thank you!” 

The next week, when Mia’s mother couldn’t take her to the retirement center because of a last-minute work emergency, she came by herself. When she left the second time, she felt a strange feeling. She wasn’t just feeling happy, but she was feeling happy because she’d done something to help somebody else. And she liked it too. She liked the residents. 

Award ceremony, four years after... 

Mia cleared her throat and stepped up to the microphone, finally knowing what she wanted to say. “The first time I volunteered, it changed my life in so many ways. It felt good. Volunteering is different for everyone. For example, some people hate it. They think it’s too much work, and they should be getting paid for it. Other people do it every once in a while, just to say that they did. But for other people, it’s a natural thing, like breathing or blinking. For me, volunteering isn’t an extra thing that I have to force myself to do. I’ve met so many interesting people during my time volunteering and learned so many interesting things that I never would have learned otherwise. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that volunteering is something necessary for this world. Not just to help other people, although, that is most of it. It’s also to feel good about yourself. The surge of pride after you’ve done something nice for someone else is something that you can’t feel any other way. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think I should be receiving this award. There are so many volunteers out there that never get recognition. Next time you have the opportunity to do something nice for someone, take that opportunity. See how it makes you feel. And when you do, it’s going to help improve this world.”  

And with that, Mia Scott accepted her award and went back to her seat, smiling to herself. 

May 28, 2022 02:32

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