Matt Giggey – My Place Teen Center’s Volunteer April Spotlight  – CONGRATULATIONS!

We asked some questions of our intrepid Matt:

About you:

I’m a 39 years old Mainer, living and working in Portland.  Although I left Maine for school, I always knew I would return.  I’m just a regular guy, close to family, surrounded by great friends, and always looking for ways that I can get involved in my community.

Why do you volunteer?

I’ve been fortunate in my life – loving and supportive family, great friends, the privilege of a wonderful education and a successful career to follow.  These opportunities, or blessings, are not lost on me.  I am thankful for all that I have been given. Because of that, I have always known that I wanted or needed to give back to my community… to share some of the blessings or opportunities in my life.

Why do you volunteer at MPTC?

It’s all about the kids!  Growing up, I was so lucky to have such positive role models in my life, and I always wanted to share that… to give back.  When a volunteer opportunity presented itself at My Place Teen Center and I learned of the impact the organization has had on the kids in our community, I knew it was going to be a great fit.

What have you learned through your experiences at MPTC?

My time at MPTC varies week to week – it can involve a night of homework, long dinner conversations, to a video game or a game of table tennis.  What has been the most meaningful to me, however, is that no matter how big or simple my nights at MPTC might be, the connections made with the kids is so impactful.  Even the smallest of interactions can mean much, not just to the kids, but to me as well.

Describe a MPTC interaction or event that was particularly meaningful and that you will never forget:

When two brothers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo first greeted me at MPTC in their native language, French, I knew I was in trouble.  I took two years of French in high school but at the time, I wasn’t really interested in learning a new language.  My lack of interest was not lost on my teacher either.  I distinctly remember her saying to me, “If you don’t study, you’ll never speak French!”  She was right and it showed when I tried to have a basic conversation in French with these boys.  I could sense the frustration on the boys’ faces as we struggled to exchange names and talk about little things like how old we were or where we were from.

When the conversation turned to soccer, however, our interactions started to change.  The brothers began to smile and suddenly between their broken English and my broken French, we began to connect.  It was a breakthrough, albeit a small one, and I fired up the Xbox and handed the boys a controller.  We started playing FIFA Soccer and even though we didn’t talk much, we still managed to learn a lot about each other while we played the game.  Their favorite team was Barcelona and Messi was their favorite player.  Both boys were very competitive and they loved playing games; soccer was their game of choice.

After a few weeks, playing a game of FIFA Soccer on the Xbox became our thing.  Every week we would look for each other at the teen center with the hope of getting in a game or two.  Our games were always very close and often finished with wild endings.  The boys’ enthusiasm would grow after every game and their energy quickly became infectious to everyone around them.  There was always a crowd of people watching us play and before long, other kids also wanted to play.  Suddenly, the boys who spoke very little English found a way to connect with kids their own age as well.

After a long summer vacation, the boys started school and made their way back to MPTC.  When I arrived at the center, one of the boys approached me and said, “Hey, want to play a game?”  These weren’t the same boys I met earlier in the spring; they were three inches taller, brimming with confidence and much to my surprise, they were actively speaking English.  What I learned during my two years of studying a foreign language, they had learned in only a summer – except I know they learned much more.

The best way to describe My Place Teen Center to someone who hasn’t experienced it before is, it changes people.  When you walk through those big red doors, chances are you won’t be the same person when you walk out.  I have seen first hand the growth these boys have experienced since they started their after school visits at MPTC and I am excited to see what the future has in store for them.  The connection between us is strong and I know the experiences that we’ve shared are ones that I won’t soon forget.