Thoughts on Serving: Part 1

Hey Guys! I started this a while back & haven’t posted it yet. I’m going to follow up with a few more posts with more details on these thoughts, but I thought I would throw this out to start! (Also it’s a little more formal than I usually post here, because at one point I thought I had enough to say to write a book) (lol what a joke). Okay. Yea, anyway. Just read it if you want. Or don’t. What do I care. (I really do care a lot but it’s a personal problem).

PART 1: BIG CHANGES, SMALL STEPS

I reluctantly opened my computer to start an assignment for my advocacy class. The instructions read, “Write a paragraph or two about a powerful experience of serving that you’ve experienced recently. Add detail.”

I sat at my computer astonished at the idea that just yesterday I thought I could write a book about acts of mercy and serving others, and today, when asked about a specific act of service I’ve completed, I sat with a mind as blank as the Word document in front of me.

“Alright, it’s not due until next Thursday,” I told myself as I exited the document, closed my laptop and went to go see one of my friends.

It wasn’t until later that week that I realized I could write my paragraph on plenty more acts than I first recalled. And I think that’s because of the way a majority of us look at service.

The first definition of “service” when looked up in Merriam-Webster is “the act of serving”. When redirected to “serve”, the first definition is “to give (food or drink) to someone at a meal, in a restaurant, etc.” It isn’t until the third definition of the verb where we see “to be of use”, which is the definition I would argue is the most common connotation used today. But it does not say anywhere in the dictionary, three definitions down or otherwise, that serving someone must be a grand act or gesture.

As a society, we are looking at service all wrong. When I couldn’t think of one thing I’ve done to help someone else, it made me feel kind of shitty. Have I ever really even done service? Yea, I mean I was a girl scout. And I spent a few Saturday’s helping at Toys for Tots last year. But have I done meaningful service?

(Just wait, I’m about to come to the realization that I have. That we all have.)

Think of all the times you were of use to someone. Ever picked up a carton of milk for your kid’s cereal while you were getting gas? Service. Ever helped someone with their homework? Ever brought soup to a sick friend? Ever given someone a ride when his or her car broke down? Service. And you guys helped the environment. That’s two birds and only one stone.

All you have to do is be of use in order to perform service. Everyone can do that, and by a majority, a lot of us do that. Every single day.

We’re all called to love.

We’re all called to serve.

But we aren’t all called to do grand gestures of “service”. Some of us were called to raise families. Some of us were called to be entrepreneurs. Some of us were called to run programs; some of us were called to run.

What if we thought about service like we did anything else. Example: some people were called to be professional basketball players. But very few of us. So does that mean that every one who is not in the NBA doesn’t ever pick up a basketball? Or have fun while doing it? No, because in order to find out if that’s you’re calling – you try. And you practice it every day. Even if you don’t make it to the NBA, does that mean all that time you spent in your local grade school league was a waste? No. Because at the very least, it gave you some exercise. It taught you control, it taught you self-discipline, it taught you teamwork, it inspired others to play. Which is something to be proud of.

It’s the same with anything else.

It’s the same with service.

Just because we aren’t all in the “big leagues” of service, doesn’t mean the rest of us stop. It doesn’t mean we don’t contribute. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to see if that’s our calling. It doesn’t mean that the small acts we do every day aren’t helping.

We think because we haven’t gone into the streets of Rwanda to help out that we aren’t servers, and perhaps the work we do isn’t meaningful. Many of us haven’t taken a weeklong trip to an orphanage to teach children in a third world country. And only a rounded 1% of us have been in the PeaceCorps. And for that percentage, it’s amazing. The work you do is amazing. And the fact that you feel you were called to do that, and you responded is amazing. But not everyone is in the big leagues of service. And that’s okay. That’s perfectly okay. That doesn’t diminish the good deeds that people all over the world, are doing every day – no matter how small.

HELP

Hey guys. Long time, no write. That’s probably my fault, though. But the computer writes both ways! No? Alright.

Now that I’m officially Vista-ing I’d love to take the opportunity to thoroughly explain the project we’re working on in 🙂 full 🙂 detail 🙂

Background refresher: Vista stands for Volunteers in Service to America.

I am working through Siena College.

And also with a local high school.

With some amazing undergrad students & a few amazing mentors.

Got it? Cool – let’s continue.

The name of our program is the Holistic Education Leadership Program (HELP). And right now, we are in Phase One.

Our goal is to establish a Leadership Program at the all-girls high school in order to focus on academic, professional and personal growth for the girls. The Siena students we have as tutors will filter into classrooms to provide in school and after school support.

Instead of focusing strictly on increasing grades, we are focusing on increasing the girls’ leadership skills, such as self-advocacy, confidence, accountability, and empowerment,  and college and career readiness – study skills, communication with the personal self, as well as academic and professional communication. PLENTY of research to come (s/o Serena). 

We intend to accomplish this through a partnership with Albany’s Holistic Youth Project, which provides mindfulness practices to youth around the Capital Region. As a team, we will try to provide an atmosphere of empowerment, self-love, and conscientiousness.

Our writing tutors and education majors will be at the high school about 4 times a week – to provide help in academic areas, but also to build relationships with the girls. Eventually, we hope to see a self-sustaining program that includes a Mindfulness Center, a Writing Center, among other places that will produce a calm, bettering environment for these young girls.

Implementing a program that provides a space for students to express their challenges and helps them to find the strength within themselves to overcome them is, I believe, one of the best ways to develop teenagers into positive members of society. It is something every single one of us could benefit from and I feel super lucky to be a part of that growth for these girls.

Education is one of the most important parts of our society, and unfortunately many systems provide a negative connotation for the American education system. Imagine what it would be like for students to want to go to school. To want to learn. To take ownership of what they produce instead of scribbling it quickly before homeroom. Imagine a generation of entrepreneurs, artists, writers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and nurses – that rose from a generation of learners that were excited, curious, inquisitive, and confident.That’s what we need. And it begins with schools, K-12, having a climate of security, respect, and engagement.

Now I’m not saying that we are going to accomplish all, or maybe even any, of this. But we have an amazingly dedicated team who can see the benefits of holistic education & leadership. And that is a good enough start.

Over the course of the next year, as with any partnerships, there will probably be some setbacks, some challenges, and some difficult days. But I cannot wait to see all that we learn this year.

Dream bigger,

Beth Ann

P.S If you are Siena student that wants to get involved with HELP – tutoring, cultivating curriculum, programming, etc. – You probably know how to get a hold of me 😉

Wait.. What is a Vista?

“What are you doing now?”

“Oh, I took a position with AmeriCorps and I’ll be working as a Vista this year!”

*cue silent congratulatory nods because no one knows what AmeriCorps is or what Vista’s do*

Well, you guys should know. It’s pretty cool. Basically: People – recent college grads, retirees, and anyone in between, work with the impoverished around the nation and receive a stipend for their work, just like a paycheck. So it’s like volunteering, but you can still afford to buy things while you’re doing it.

Vista stands for “Volunteers in Service to America”. That’s going to be me this year.

Each Vista has a project, or a base-site. Whether its working with children, the homeless population, working on food equity, healthcare, or education, among many other social injustices. And they work, like a regular job, through a nationwide program (AmeriCorps) to help the community they are serving.

I will be serving in Albany, New York, working at both Siena College and a local all girls charter high school. I will be heading a project to bring more holistic health, more leadership, and more education, to the girls at the school.

Pretty simple, right?

Yea, I thought so too.

I’m going to be doing some really cool stuff, working with some really cool people, posting some really cool videos & posts this year. So check back if you want to keep up with how my year as a Vista is going. Keep me accountable. And if you want to see what led me to make this decision postgrad, take a look at my last post

——–> this way i think…

or maybe this way <——–

Still learning this whole blogging thing.

What brought me here?

I just graduated from Siena College with a Marketing degree. Which I have never doubted as the best choice for me. However, over the course of my high school and college career I often got rushes of feelings that I didn’t want to be near the business world when I got out of college. These were often short lived, as I convinced myself that business was where the money was, and besides, I was good at it.

But as my last year of college came to a close, these feelings came more and more frequently. Every night I would say an extra prayer to help calm myself down. And every morning I would wake up feeling just as unsettled.

I don’t want to be in the business world just yet. At least not the businesses I have been in thus far. I want to help people. I want to write and contribute to someone’s life. I want to leave work each day and feel fulfilled and I want to start the day excited at the possibility of all that I can accomplish.

I complained to my friends, and they assured me that I would find a business that does help people, where I could contribute every day and feel like I was helping. I just hadn’t found it yet.

The day before my last final exam, I was feeling a little more uneasy than usual, and I felt something telling me to call one of my good childhood friends. We are still very close, but both with our own lives, we struggle to maintain constant contact. So on my way to the library to study, I gave her a call.

When she answered we quickly caught up and I explained to her what I was feeling. I was more nervous about graduating than I had even known before. She calmed me down and said to me, “Beth, I am an Opera major. You have a business degree – you are going to be fine”. She continued on to remind me of my faith and to remember that God has a plan, and he will get me exactly where I need to be. She even reminded me that I am often the one telling this to her when she is struggling. Before we hung up she said, “I’m serious. Just stop worrying about it. Leave your intentions to God, and just give your best to what you are doing every day. You have an insanely great support system, and you will not fail. We won’t let you.”

Just leave my intentions to God? Just trust Him? Know that I’ll be fine on God’s plan?

Duh. I should’ve thought of this myself. Like she said, I’m often the one dealing this advice out to my friends, as it’s my usual go to. Unfortunately, that’s hard to remember from the inside. But she was right. So I said an extra prayer or two and left my intentions to God; He knew what was inside my heart better than I did anyway.

I concentrated on my last final. I had a good time hanging out with my friends, and I enjoyed some much needed family time. I let myself breathe. And every thought I had about my future, I veered to the man upstairs.

And that’s when I got an email from one of my closest, and favorite mentors from Siena, offering me a position at Siena, through AmeriCorps Vista. She explained that I would be a post-grad fellow at the high school I have been helping to teach ESL at for the past year and a half.

Given that this was my favorite activity that I did at Siena, I was ecstatic about the offer. I understood that I would be paid in a small stipend in lieu of a salary, which made me a bit hesitant. But really, I was so excited I cried (Bia, my temporary sister, who watched me with curiosity as I went from the biggest smile in the world, to tears in the matter of seconds, can attest). I immediately emailed back asking if we could meet to go over some specifics, and logistics.

Vista stands for “Volunteers in Service to America”. Wow. That’s just what I wanted, right? Talk about an answered prayer. There was no way I wouldn’t take the position.

So much to my wallet’s dismay, I accepted the position and I will be starting in a few weeks, and committed for one year. I will be working at both Siena College, and at the charter high school to help further education, and provide help to those in the community.

I am excited for the experiences I will receive throughout this next year. I am excited to work alongside some of the best people I have worked with at Siena. I am excited to see what kind of difference me and my team can make, and I am excited to continue along the path that God has set out for me.