Want to Make Others Smile? Here’s How.

I don’t know about you, but I thrive on making others smile. And I don’t mean the crack-a-joke-to-make-people-pass-out-from-hysterical-laughter kind of smile. What I’m talking about is making others smile because you’ve made some sort of difference in their daily lives.

Since November, I’ve been assisting students during the English as a second language (ESL) class sessions held by Atlanta’s Latin American Association. While many of the students easily pick up on the English language, it’s much harder for others to learn as quickly as they’d like. Regardless, the students work hard at continuing to build their abilities and becoming more comfortable with speaking English. Several of them have said to me with confidence, “One day, I know I’ll be speaking English as well as you.”

This week kicked off the first session of ESL classes in 2012, and I was just as excited as the students to return from the holiday recess. I assist in a different classroom now, so although I was excited to be working with new students, I was also disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see the students I worked with previously — or so I thought.

As I walked through the halls after our class ended, I happened to stumble upon two students from the last session.  We said hello to each other, and as I looked around, I recognized two more students who were also enrolled in the class. It was a welcome surprise for me to have run into them. They eagerly asked me about my new students, made a few comments about their new teacher and talked about how much they enjoyed their holidays (we all agreed we had eaten too much between Christmas and the New Year!).  Our conversation was fully in Spanish, which I savored for as long as I could.

What surprised me most about our encounter was how overwhelmingly happy we were to see each other. All four students had huge smiles painted on their faces, as did I , throughout our entire conversation. We were genuinely concerned about each other and how things were progressing, both inside and outside of the classroom — they even told me they had peeked into our room during a  class break to check on the teacher and me, hoping to steal a moment to talk with us.

As I walked out the door, I began thinking. It was crystal clear that these students and I had formed a closer and deeper bond than we had perceived by the end of our ESL class session in 2011. And it all started with them taking the initiative to improve their English and me stepping up to the plate as a classroom volunteer.

With Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday right around the corner, here’s one of his quotations I’d like for you to ponder: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

So, what have you been doing for others? Have you been making others smile as I have? If you’re currently involved in your community in some way, that’s great. If not, I hope you’ll consider becoming involved, whether it’s through a one-time MLK Day of Service opportunity this Monday, or an ongoing program with one of many agencies supported by United Way or  a national organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters. No matter what, don’t forget to make your volunteer experience fun for you. Become involved with programs that are related to your passion, whether it’s dance, crafts, fitness, photography or writing. In my case, I’m passionate about learning new languages and continuing education opportunities, making ESL classes a natural fit.

So now it’s your turn. Let me know how you plan to spread the smiles around!

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