June 29, 2020

Volunteer Spotlight: How volunteerism allows me to pursue my passion beyond limits

“Do not judge me before you know me. Do not underestimate me until you have challenged me. And do not talk about me until you have talked to me.” – Unknown

I have been volunteering at the TGR Learning Lab since May 2016. Over the course of these four years, I have been able to meet wonderful people, as well as learn some new skills that I hope to use in my future career. I got involved in volunteering at the TGR Learning Lab through College 2 Career, a program at North Orange Continuing Education that helps students with disabilities get an education and find volunteering or employment opportunities. I have always known I wanted to work with youth. Thus, my job developer discovered the TGR Learning Lab and helped me apply. Once I began volunteering at the TGR Learning Lab, I kept returning because people there have accepted me for who I am, regardless of my disability. I have Cerebral Palsy, but that does not stop me from doing anything I want to achieve.

Christine assists the after school program with academic support preparation at the flagship TGR Learning Lab.

In my opinion, I believe it is important for youth to be exposed to individuals with disabilities. I want them to know if you put your mind to it, anything is possible, as I have faced and overcome many challenges. Due to this, I have also been a para-professional at Westmont Elementary School for the past five years, working closely with students who have disabilities.

Looking back at my time at the Learning Lab, I have had many great experiences. One of my favorite memories was when I first volunteered in a classroom. The students were curious about me being in a wheelchair and using a device to communicate. A highlight of my volunteer experience with TGR Foundation has been the Family Nights at the Learning Lab. I love showing my family and friends around the lab and getting to meet some of the other volunteers. Another one of my favorite memories is of a time when I was recognized at the Orange County Volunteer Association Banquet, which was totally awesome. I loved seeing so many volunteers giving back to their community. I also have some favorite tasks at the Learning Lab, from typing up documents to helping with supervision of the students and interacting with them. I love supporting the volunteer coordinator, and I enjoy when he assigns me new tasks because it challenges me.

Students gather with Christine after browsing and showcasing their projects during the session during Family Night.

From my experience, I think there are some qualities that are necessary to be a great volunteer.

  1. Be a good role model for the community.
  2. Be on time for your shifts.
  3. Do what you are tasked with.
  4. Get along with your peers.

I have volunteered at many organizations, including Ability First and the Boys and Girls Club. I also mentored children with communication devices at Goodwill Assistive Technology Exchange Center, and I am an ambassador for PRC, a company that makes my communication devices.

The TGR Learning Lab thanks volunteers during Volunteer Week.

When I am not volunteering, I like to spend time with my friends, go to concerts, read books and spend time on the computer. I especially like to use social media because it keeps me connected with my friends. I like to see what they are doing, even when we are not together. I play basketball, run half marathons with a group of friends and go to a recreational program for adults with disabilities called New Horizons, where we explore many different places. My plans for my future are to get my associate degree and further my education. I received my Special Education Certificate from Fullerton College in May 2018 to allow me to further my knowledge and education. I would also like to get a certificate that would lead me to opportunities to further advocate for children with disabilities.

Additionally, I have some of my own personal heroes who have shaped me, one of whom is my dad. He passed away fourteen years ago, and he taught me so much about life. He believed in me and always wanted the best for me. I know he’s always looking down at me. My next personal hero is my best friend and sister, Alejandra. We grew up together since I was three years old. She still lives next door and is always there for me. And lastly, my elementary school teacher, Mrs. Tiffany, who I work closely with now. She is the one who put me in general education. She knew I was capable of learning anything. I thank my heroes every day.

Christine smiles for a photo on the academic support floor of the flagship TGR Learning Lab.

Overall, my experience with volunteering, especially at the TGR Learning Lab, has allowed me to learn how to work with others, process data entry, gain skills for future jobs and learn what STEM is all about. I will take all these gained skills and experiences and put it into whatever is next for me, which is hopefully working a part-time job supporting children with disabilities like I have done at the elementary level.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.