Volunteers evoke smiles at Carver Center

Margaux MacColl, Features Editor

As Natalie Lieberson ’17 entered the classroom, a jovial chaos erupted. Three first grade girls leaped from their chairs and raced to her. They tried to give her a hug but were too short and ended up wrapping their little arms around her legs.

Lieberson got to work right away, sitting down at one of the six tables scattered around the room and helping a first grade boy with his math homework.

This wasn’t Lieberson’s first time there — she’s been coming to the Carver Center in Norwalk, Connecticut, once a week for about two years.

She’s a part of a volunteer program that watches about 25 children from kindergarten to second grade after school, doing everything from reading them stories to playing basketball.

The longevity of her volunteering was evident, as every kid knew her name and waved ecstatically upon her entrance.

A Kindergarten girl, with a permanently plastered smile, described Lieberson as “amazing.”

“She loves us,” the girl said before collapsing into squealing giggles.

One of the girls that hugged Lieberson was a first grade girl with an orange ribbon in her hair and a tiny tomato stain on the collar of her silver dress. She scooped spoonfuls of peach yogurt into her mouth as she described her favorite part of the program.

“I got lots of new friends,” she said with a grin. “They be nice to me.”

Lieberson isn’t the only one who has been coming to the Carver Center for years— one of the older volunteers, Mejelly Jean Baptiste, is currently a freshman at Norwalk Community College and has been a part of the program since fifth grade.

“I want to help kids in the same way the people here helped me,” Baptiste said.

Baptiste spoke in a gentle voice, one that was liable to break into a soft chuckle, as she described one especially poignant memory from her time volunteering.

“There was one girl who would get uncomfortable when we played gym. She felt like she was too big to be running around. So I pulled her aside, and I told her, ‘It’s okay. You’re going to love it in the future. Keep doing what you’re doing, and you’re going to learn from it,’” Even from behind her black-rimmed glasses, there was clear pride in her eyes as she said, “Ever since then she’s been playing in gym.”

Then her voice became lively; she cocked her hip and started snapping her fingers excitedly. “And anytime she takes a break I go to her, and I tell her to keep going and keep working hard,” Baptiste said.

Her enthusiasm for the kids shined through as she dutifully walked around, checking with each child to make sure they had done their homework.

Meanwhile, across the room, a first grade girl with beads strung at the bottom of her hair, plopped down at a table to interrogate Lieberson. “What do you call your mom?” she asked, beads clattering as she tilted her head.

Lieberson laughed, “Mom. Sometimes Mommy.”

Their conversation was cut short as Lieberson’s time came to an end and the kids started lining up to go to gym.

“Whenever I leave, I feel like I accomplished something. I feel like I did something,” Lieberson said. “I feel like I did something good.”

Neither Lieberson nor the children liked to say goodbye.

The first grade girl, with the beads in her hair and neon orange leggings, grasped one of the volunteer’s hands and turned to Lieberson as she got ready to leave.

“Can’t you stay a little longer?”