Thais Hunter

Site: La Salle Academy – Philadelphia, PA

College: Christian Brothers University

What do you do?

Art teacher, breakfast and lunch helper, and after school and homework moderator.

What have you discovered about poverty from your work?

What I have discovered about poverty is that you cannot slap a label on it. I think so often society attempts to label everything or everyone: socio-economic backgrounds, race, etc. Sometimes what we have yet to see is that everyone has a different story. I hate to admit that I used to be one of those people, and that I had to witness and experience poverty myself in order to believe it. It is so easy to point the finger and say, “He or She should have been smarter. Made better choices.” But what I have learned is to look at the whole picture. Did he or she try to make better choices but because of the choices of someone else, were their chances ruined?

I can think of a certain mother who has three sons and right before the holidays the father decided that he wanted a new life, and decided to leave her and his three sons behind. Now should I blame her for continuing the cycle of poverty that may occur now that she has to care for three children by herself although she’s made the best choices she can in her circumstances? Or the father who is putting his children’s welfare aside for his own selfishness? Everyone has a different story.

After my almost two-years at LaSalle Academy, I do not like the word poor. I have taught myself to not use it. One day a student said to me, “Miss Thais, I’m poor. That’s why I’m here.” I did not know how to respond. I thought to myself, “Have I in any way treated this student differently because they are from a different socio-economic status?” I used to joke I that I was poor because I lived on a “small” monthly stipend, but after the stories I have heard and after witnessing those moments of what being “poor” really means, I feel ashamed. How dare I even think of myself as being poor? Though I may not have all the wants of the world, my needs are met.

What has been your biggest disappointment in your volunteer service? How has this affected you?

My biggest disappointment is being asked why I chose to do this the past two years when I could be “livin’ the life” elsewhere and have more money in my bank account. I am baffled as to why making money would be more important than giving back so that others may have the same chance at a great education. It is one thing to hear that people are shallow and close-minded, and another thing to experience it.

“You teach in the hood?” is what I cannot stand to hear the most. Whenever I hear someone label my students as ghetto just makes me so upset! Why are they ghetto? Because they come from an impoverished area or because of their ethnicity? I do not think that people realize how ignorant they sound when saying such a thing.

How has your involvement with the Brothers affected you?

Being around the Brothers has been great! The Brothers are like a bunch of grandpas who tell great stories and always tell me that “I’m too much.” It is nice having a bunch of guys who are here to see me succeed and do well in life. Whenever I have any questions about life or what to do after volunteering, I am never met with “Can you talk to someone else?”

My best memories with and of the Brothers are from social gatherings. If anyone reading this decides to join the volunteer program, NEVER miss a gathering with the Brothers! It is great sitting back and laughing with them. It could be at home or at a bar (believe it or not!). A social gathering hosted by the Brothers is truly one of the best experiences you will have as a volunteer. Take it from me, I was not a believer, but now I am.

What would you say to one of your students, mothers, clients or guests who came to you discouraged about a particularly troubling problem?

God does not give us more than we can handle.

What might you say to your principal or supervisor who appeared negative about the recent behavior of the person just above who had recently confided in you?

Sometimes it is easier to accuse, but it is harder to understand.

What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?

Why not? They are way better than roommates in college.

Why would you recommend Lasallian Volunteers to a college senior considering volunteerism?

Giving it all up is not easy…and neither is goodbye. But it is all necessary in order to grow and become the person you were meant to be.

Why would you recommend a contribution to Lasallian Volunteers from a prospective donor?

Plant the seed so that it may grow.