Community Service Award Recipient Tracy Nicholas believes volunteering earns a “paycheck of the heart”

Posted by on January 9, 2012


Tracy Nicholas (in gray), confirmation guide, and her teenage mentees

Editor’s note: Tracy Nicholas is currently earning her Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. She was selected by MSB-Shakopee leadership staff as Fall quarter 2011 recipient of the Community Service Scholarship Award, with her $2000 scholarship beginning Winter quarter 2012. This is the essay she submitted with a summary of her community service activities she has recently performed.

“Volunteer work is supposed to be something a person undertakes willingly and without pay. Unfortunately, it is also something many people do these days because it looks good on a resume, or it is for a school project. It can feel as if volunteer work is no longer something a person wants to do, but something they have to do. I was not raised with that mindset. My mother always told me that helping others in need was not about recognition, but about being a good neighbor. Since she raised me in the church, I decided to give back to the institution I spent so much time in as a child.

It has been said that the longest journey in the world is the eighteen inches from your head to your heart. This is the driving principle behind the confirmation program at my church, Hope Lutheran in Jordan. It is not about having the kids learn the catechism and prayers through rote memorization, it is about guiding them from knowledge of the brain to knowing in the heart. The goal is to guide these kids through their faith journey, by being an advocate, facilitator, listener, mentor, nurturer, and role model. As a guide, I attend Wednesday evening classes with my group, joining in worship and praise, teaching lessons, and helping them explore what those lessons mean.

I volunteered to become a confirmation guide to preteen and teenage girls over seven years ago, and have enjoyed every moment. At first, I thought I was simply filling a need in the church, but soon discovered I was also filling a need in my heart. I can have a terrible day at work, be absolutely exhausted, and just want to crawl into bed on those Wednesday evenings. But I pull myself together and head off to church, knowing I am needed there. After spending time worshipping with and guiding these girls through their journey in faith, I leave every week re-energized and happy. They are so exuberant and full of life, it is contagious. Starting this year out, my heart warmed when the seventh graders I had last year, now eighth graders, asked if I was going to be their guide again this year. When I answered “yes”, they screamed and giggled and gathered around in a group hug. Being surrounded by seven teenagers willing to show love and joy, makes me feel like I have made a difference in this world.    

Teenage confirmation students make the shape of a cross with their hands.

I have been honored to get to know these girls over the years, and watch them grow into women. I have seen them help each other, even though they are not in the same school cliques, when one of them is hurting. They have graciously and willingly picked up trash, collected food, and made sandwiches for the hungry. I was asked by one girl to be her mentor, helping her to prepare for her affirmation of faith, which is a huge honor. As for the impact I have had with these girls, I recently caught a glimpse at the high school graduation of my first group when one of them sought me out after the ceremony, hugged me, and told me she was grateful I had been there to help her through her time of need.

Volunteer work is something that should allow a person to feel good about themselves and their community, whether or not they are ever recognized. I may not get weekly paycheck for volunteering, but over the last seven years, these twenty-three girls have taught me that the best job in the world pays more than mere money. I get a paycheck of the heart.”

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