Volunteer and preschoolers learn from each other

Volunteer Melissa Gamboa shows kids how to blow bubbles at the Children's Learning Center in Walled Lake.

Volunteer Melissa Gamboa shows kids how to blow bubbles at the Children's Learning Center in Walled Lake.

Melissa Gamboa always thought about working with kids but never expected it would be in a different country.

Melissa, who moved to Farmington Hills from Mexico more than a year ago, volunteers at Oakland Family Services' Children's Learning Center in Walled Lake. Her husband, Alberto, got a job here as an engineer for Preh, Inc., a supplier for General Motors.

"I was looking for volunteering in a school," she said. "I wanted to work with kids and the location was good. I love to be with kids. In Mexico, I worked with adults as a human resource coordinator, but all my life I have been interested in being a teacher."

Melissa, who began in April 2016 helping out in the classrooms, learned about the agency while doing a search on the Internet for volunteer opportunities. She does everything from helping kids with their breakfast in the morning, to working with the children in small groups, to playing with them at recess.

She loves seeing all of the progress the children make.

"When the child improves or tells me, 'Ms. Melissa, I can write my name,' I feel proud of their work," she said.

"I want them to be independent. I want them to be able to put their jackets on alone. I tell them they have to put it on and zip it. For them it's complicated. Some kids say 'No, I can't do it,' and I say, 'You can do it!' It's encouraging."

Melissa interacted with children as a dance teacher and Girl Scout leader while living in Mexico. At the Walled Lake Children's Learning Center though, not only is she working with children but learning from them, too. She said the children are teaching her some vocabulary, expressions and idioms used in the United States.

Katie Sloan, former early childhood education site supervisor, said Melissa is an invaluable asset to the preschool program.

"The kids look forward to her arrival, and they have strong connections with her," Sloan said. "It's impossible to really explain the benefits our Spanish-speaking students are gaining from speaking with her in their native language. Our students enjoy sitting together with her reading a book, or laughing loudly while she pushes them on the tire swing. Melissa is someone who embodies skills and warmth that are hard to find. We are so lucky to have her."

Oakland Family Services has a wealth of volunteer opportunities for groups and individuals. If you are interested in being part of building brighter futures too, contact Valerie Mercadante at vmercadante@ofsfamily.org or (248) 858-7766, ext. 1218.