My day at Excelsior Youth Center.

We are going to Disney World in October. A few months ago, I signed up for something called “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” in which you give a day for a local charity and Disney gives you one day free admission to the parks. The website was helpful and listed dozens of opportunities. I selected Excelsior Youth Center and their “Holiday In a Box” promotion. Spend 3 hours assembling holiday boxes.

I got notice long ahead of time and used one of my vacation days at work (it was a Thursday). I didn’t really know what to expect as I headed east to Aurora and the assigned location. I found a sprawling campus without a sign out front identifying it. However, it was at a dead-end and was surely the right place.

Following a small sign that said “Main Entry,” I went in and was warmly greeted by all the workers there. “We love our volunteers!” they said. Not for the first time, I felt sheepish about getting something for myself out of the deal.

As I sat in the waiting room, I noticed a sign on the wall that said, “Residential Treatment Center for Young Girls.” I saw a teenager bid goodbye to her family there in the waiting room, and it seemed rather sad. The people at Excelsior were so nice and upbeat, but there was a sort of a depressing vibe about the place.

My contact Marisa came to get me and walked me to the other side of the campus. They have room for 180 residents, in dorms with nearby exercise fields. It looks like a nice, new junior high. I walked through the actual school portion of the facility and saw a few more of the girls walking between classes. They looked pretty sullen.

My job for the day was to assemble eight holiday baskets, to be given to the girls for Easter. Each basket had about eight components, including egg-dying tools and candy bags. Does that sound like three hours work to you? Me neither. I even slowed down a bit, but it still took me less than two hours. “Boy, you’re really fast!” they said.

Marisa also asked me if I was nervous. I said yes, that I’d never done anything like this before. And I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was a couple hours of my time spent helping some disadvantaged teens. I think part of the whole project that Disney had set up was to get people like me who had never volunteered before, and show them how it feels to help. It felt good.

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