Throughout our two years of virtual programming, our second year had a noteworthy highlight—WITS’ first-ever international volunteer mentor. Based in London, England, mentor Maddy Wright works in investment management at William Blair, WITS’ 2022 Corporate Partner of the Year. Every Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. GST, she would log onto a Zoom call and read with three eighth grade scholars from LEARN Hunter Perkins: Camryn, Laniyah, and Lathan. In this blog Q&A, Maddy talks about her experience working with three young people who live across the pond, nearly 4,000 miles away.
What brought you to WITS?
William Blair sent out an email asking if anyone would be interested in volunteering for this [past] year’s virtual program. I’m based in London, so I couldn’t be involved in WITS due to location, but it was something I thought sounded great. With the move to virtual, I got to be part of our Chicago community and meet scholars in the local area, which has been great!
Can you tell us about your time working with students Camryn, Laniyah, and Lathan over the past year?
Camryn, Laniyah, and Lathan all had different interests and book preferences, so I was unsure if everything we read would appeal to all of them. They were totally okay with reading books that one of the others had picked. There’s a graciousness to all three of them, and they showed me how supportive each of them was of the other two and how this, in turn, improved their reading abilities. Their supportive and collaborative nature snowballed what was possible, and it was wonderful to see.
What is something new that you learned from them?
My three scholars have been so engaged with WITS throughout our time together. I feel like they’ve taught me a lot about what life is like for them in Chicago, outside of the classroom. Every week, they’re talking about new subjects, art, and their favorite past times. Camryn and Laniyah are best friends, and it came across in how much fun they had together.
As an international volunteer, what did it mean to you to connect with scholars in a Chicago public school?
I grew up on the Isle of Wight; it’s a small island off the south coast of England with three small schools. Everyone knows everyone, really! The Chicago school system couldn’t be more different, so it was really interesting to hear more about their lives in such a large city in the States. [During] one of our sessions, we met whilst they were on a school trip (infamous yellow bus and all!), and the sorts of things they were exploring sounded so exciting to me. Very different to the school trips to local farms I’d had on the Island! Getting to transcend borders has been so wonderful, and it’s something I would have really valued when I was growing up.
What are you doing when you’re not at WITS?
Outside of WITS, I love sports. I compete in figure skating, and I’m currently training for my first bodybuilding competition.
What is the last favorite book you’ve read and why?
Every Christmas Eve, my mother and I read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. For almost thirty years, this story has to be read to me for it to really feel like Christmas. I think it must be my favorite; there’s no other story I’ve read as many times. I can recite most of the contents at this point.
How has volunteering at WITS impacted your idea of what it means to be of service?
To be of service is to leave a positive impact on the people around you. What I’ve found interesting, though, is that this isn’t a one-way street. Camryn, Laniyah and Lathan had a positive impact on me. I would finish our Zoom sessions and have such a sense of pride. Whilst being of service is something I can do, there’s a lot you get back in return.