After facing bullying in brick-and-mortar school, Oniyah Burns felt isolated and disconnected from the world. Seeking alternatives, Oniyah’s family made the decision to switch to online learning.
The transition was not easy for Oniyah, though, and her new routine was often times a lonely one. This has all changed since she began volunteering at the Trinity Jubilee Center. The center provides a place for people to get a warm meal, receive basic living necessities, sleep, and socialize with others in a safe environment. Their doors are open six days a week for people in the community to get the resources they otherwise would not be able to get. And the work that Oniyah does has a direct impact on them. Now volunteering offers her a different perspective – one that’s about more than giving back.
“I’ve found that it is much easier for me to socialize when I am helping people,” Oniyah said.
Oniyah’s mom, Tonya, started as a volunteer at Trinity Jubilee Center in 2002 and in 2017 transitioned to a full-time position as a resource center manager. When Tonya moved into her new role, Oniyah asked if she could go with her mom during the week to volunteer and help at the center where needed.
For Tonya, this was an important step in getting Oniyah involved in her community in a way that gives her a sense of purpose.
“I loved the idea when Oniyah asked if she could come volunteer with me at the center,” Tonya said. “She had been isolating herself for so long and having her truly helps, especially when we are short on volunteers.”
So now, on a typical weekday, you can find the Maine Virtual Academy (MEVA) student doing school work from her mom’s office at Trinity. And when she’s not online for class or doing homework, you can find her helping in the kitchen, sorting donations, passing out mail, or visiting with those who come to the center for support and resources they may not be able to get otherwise.
For Oniyah, volunteering is definitely about helping others and giving back. But it’s also about interacting with people from around the world and making new friends from all walks of life. Online learning helps Oniyah to do just that. She’s taking what she’s learning in her classes and applying it to the work she does at the center by practicing different languages and learning more about the world outside of her own through the first-hand experiences of others. For example, she often gets the chance to practice Latin, which she is studying in her classes, as well as other languages like Spanish, Portuguese and Korean.
“I love how I get to be around so many different people from all over the world. Every day, I make new friends and hear new stories,” Oniyah said.
At the center, Oniyah serves in many different roles. She helps to meal prep and clean up, assists in organizing the donation pantry, and distributes mail to people as they come to the center each day.
Oniyah hopes that through her work, people know that they are cared for and not alone. She also hopes to inspire others – especially teens – to get more involved in their communities and help others.