Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
For me, the summer months used to possess a certain emptiness. The warm weather and freedom to explore personal projects were always welcome, but the absence of school’s daily scheduling and assignments sometimes left me feeling generally aimless and without purpose. This all changed, though, about three years ago when my 80-year-old neighbor asked me to volunteer with him.
Mr. Edgerton, a former engineer, heads a team of mostly retired men and women who build ramps for people who have difficulty getting in and out of their homes. The service is provided free of charge—construction materials are paid for by donations, and the tools are owned by the volunteers. As it was explained to me in the passenger seat of Mr. Edgerton’s pickup, “They need the ramp just as much whether they can afford it or not.” I began helping as a sort of worksite assistant, carrying boards, digging post holes, and completing simple tasks like these, but with time I learned the intricacies of the construction process, requiring less and less guidance until I could serve as half of a two-man team, laying down a few ramps in one morning.
At first, I had been pitching in every week just to occupy my time and attention, but I soon came to understand the incredible opportunity I had been given. Transporting lumber, constructing ramps, and talking with recipients throughout Wayne County, I saw people and places in my own community which I never would have encountered otherwise. I met people recovering from surgery and living in poverty. I shook hands with a man who worked alongside us to build a ramp for his mother. I forged real friendships with the people who spent their retirement volunteering with this program, and I learned something that they all knew but I had until then not understood: there is nothing in life as meaningful as promoting the welfare of others. I now recognize that the greatest possible fulfillment comes from labor that betters the livelihood of those around me.
During summer vacations, I work as a part of Mr. Edgerton’s tight-knit group of builders. This experience has given me a fresh perspective on life and has brought a new significance not just to my summers but to every day of the year. Now, whenever I can, I try to follow the example these diligent, always-smiling volunteers have set for me. Because of my time working with them, I more deeply appreciate how far a little effort and kindness can go for someone facing a personal struggle. I am incredibly grateful to my ramp-building neighbor for reaching out and helping me understand that adding a hint of brightness to someone’s life is the most meaningful, rewarding ambition I can have.