Written by Brandon McNichol //
The city of Orlando is known for many things. Its theme parks, sports teams, and beautiful landscapes all earn this town its worldwide renown. However, there is an overlooked part of Orlando that lacks much of this city’s usual magic. It is called Parramore, and I have dedicated four summers of service to the children of this community.
In the course of my service I have learned a great deal about social justice, advocacy and leadership. More specifically, I have learned about social justice in terms of identifying unique issues that affect Parramore, about advocacy for the members of Parramore, and about how to actively lead a team with the goal to make a difference.
In 2013, I was selected to participate in the Florida Hospital program (created by Dr. Kathy Gibney) to serve at the New Image Youth Center (run by Dr. Shanta Barton-Stubbs) in Parramore, Orlando. I was one of many high school volunteers who were placed in charge of tutoring and mentoring the children of the community. During this time, I learned that education is imperative in today’s society. Not only is it important in terms of employment, but it also serves an essential role in social interaction. Those lacking upper degree schooling are largely left out of the conversation on issues that directly affect their communities. That is why it is wonderful to have people like Dr. Shanta Barton-Stubbs who, after receiving higher education, founded the center in order to help educate the youth of the Parramore community.
In 2016 I took on the challenge of becoming the leader of the Florida Hospital volunteers. Not only did I tutor the children, but I also trained high school volunteers to become effective mentors. This was a challenge in that these volunteers came from different backgrounds and served the Parramore community for various reasons. Some were truly caring and altruistic, while others were merely trying to complete service requirements for school. Even those who served with good intentions were not always easy to get along with or the hardest workers. Several caring volunteers always believed that that they knew better and would not listen to instruction. On the other hand, many who originally came primarily for community service hours proved to be hard working and developed a true appreciation for the children of the center.
Through this experience, I realized that being a leader is sometimes difficult. It requires agreeableness and firmness, as well as careful planning and flexibility. To anyone who wishes to be a leader, I cannot overstate the importance of selecting a quality team. I believe the selection process should try to determine the maturity and intention of volunteers individually as well as team dynamics among volunteers. However, no selection can be perfect. When faced with difficult team members, it requires clear judgment and wisdom as a leader to evaluate if a difficult member should be worked with or asked to leave.
In addition to the challenges of building an effective and passionate team, another challenge of leadership I have seen is the lack of support and resources available to make a lasting impact. Personally, I was only able to serve at the center during summer; while I could have made a greater impact tutoring during the school year. In the surrounding area of Parramore I was surprised to see that a new stadium was being built on the same street as the center. I questioned the rationale of building a stadium instead of investing money into places like New Image. I can only imagine what changes I could make in the lives of these children if I had more time and the center had more resources and funding.
Within the world of advocacy, other issues overshadow the lives of the children in Parramore. I attended a workshop where advocacy for undocumented immigrant rights was greatly stressed. In the state of Georgia undocumented immigrant are not allowed to attend college regardless of their ability to pay or high school grades. At this workshop, speakers told stories of students who received full scholarships to universities in other states because of the lack of access in Georgia. I was encouraged by the passion and support for these immigrants, but I was troubled by the thought that the poor children of America’s inner cities might be overlooked. Given the lack of resources available for college scholarships, is it fair for money to be given to undocumented immigrants if less money is available for poor American youth to go to college?
To reconcile this, I thought of a doctor who is extremely passionate about cardiology and treating heart disease. They in no way have any ill will for those suffering with cancer, although they do not treat patients with cancer. There must be equally passionate doctors who specialize in cancer treatment in order for that disease to be addressed. The same is true with advocacy. When an issue is not being addressed to the extent it should be, instead of calling for decreased attention to other issues, someone should rise to the challenge and become the impetus for change which may in turn inspire others to take up your cause with you. This is the way I have found to generate change. First, become involved with an organization that addresses a need you see in the world; rise to a leadership role and train others by your example; and finally, become a passionate specialist in addressing the area of need. In this fashion, I made a meaningful difference in Orlando. I believe the same can be done in all parts of the world.
Brandon McNichol is a junior at Rollins College. He majors in biochemistry and cello performance with the goal to attend medical school in the future. After being homeschooled throughout elementary and high school, Brandon appreciates the opportunities that a great education affords and strives to help others gain access to such opportunities. He works toward this goal through his mentorship at the New Image Youth Center and tutoring at his college.