Buck-I-SERV

A wonderful opportunity I felt would be a good use of my STEP grant was going on a Buck-I-SERV trip. These trips are meant to get students involved in community service, while helping them learn about the current issues occurring around the country that call for our attention. I was lucky enough to be placed on a trip to New York City through the Youth Service Opportunities Project. This organization was focused on helping the food insecure and homeless of NYC.
On the first day of service we volunteered at a daycare that cared for children whose mother’s had just been released from prison. While taking care of adorable little babies was extremely heartwarming, it was amazing to see how the daycare was helping the mothers get back on their feet by not only helping take care of their children, but helping them attain their GEDs, find jobs, and even providing housing for them and their families until they get back on their feet. This made me realize that our help goes on for generations. By helping someone in need, that person can be influenced to live a better life and provide a better life for their children, creating a chain. This showed me how truly valuable our help is.
On the second day of service we went to a school for children with disabilities where they also distributed food to the homeless on the side. We helped prepare and distribute food bags for the homeless, as well as cleaning up some parts of the school. On the third day, we organized a dinner party and invited homeless/food insecure people in the area. This was my favorite part of the trip because it was definitely the most eye-opening part for me. We were able to sit down and have dinner with people who have been through so much in their lives, and it helped me realize how much alike we are to them. I was able to have completely normal conversation with a disadvantaged man who didn’t have a place to call home, yet he still had a smile on his face. What surprised me the most was when we offered him seconds, he said no. He only took what he needed and nothing more. It made me realize that we shouldn’t stereotype the homeless/food insecure people because they are normal people just like us who have had to deal with unfortunate events in their lives, but who are still fully capable if given the opportunity. It was heartbreaking to see them leave and not know what they were going back to, but it was a truly eye-opening experience and I enjoyed bonding with them. The main lesson I took away from this day was to not stereotype the homeless/food insecure because the only difference between them and us is that they are in an unfortunate situation, but if given the resources they can prosper just like anyone else.
The fourth day of service was a little short, where we helped stock and organize a food pantry. Lastly, on the fifth day we went to a Synagogue where they held a dinner every Thursday mostly for the homeless/food insecure, but anyone was welcome. It was interesting to see how they didn’t limit the amount of people that could attend, they served food and didn’t ask any questions. What I loved was how they made it like a party for the guests where they set up the tables nicely, we served them and asked them what they wanted to eat and drink, and they even provided entertainment where someone sang and played the piano. I think it’s amazing of the Synagogue to do because it gave people assurance that they had a meal to look forward to every Thursday. This taught me how important continuity is when getting involved in service. I hope to provide this kind of continuity in the future and provide a long-lasting service to those in need.
The first and last days were free days where we toured a lot of NYC. Throughout both free days we were able to visit Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, Chinatown/Little Italy, Washington Square Park, Central Park, the 9/11 memorial, walk on the Brooklyn Bridge, ride the Staten Island Ferry, and go to the very top of the Rockefeller Center that overlooked all of NY.
This trip was especially meaningful to me because as a Syrian American, I hope to dedicate time in the future serving those affected by the Syrian Conflict. Furthermore, being a pre-dental student, this trip relates to my future goals because I hope to provide non-profit dental aid to underserved areas of the world, as well as to those affected by the Syrian Conflict. This trip allowed me to directly provide non-profit aid to those in need, which was great experience for the future as I hope to donate my time to those in need whenever possible. Currently, I am able to use this experience towards helping the homeless/food insecure here in Columbus because they deserve our help just as much as anyone else.
Overall I am extremely grateful I was able to go on this trip. Not only was it amazing to explore New York for the first time, but it opened my eyes to what homeless and food insecure people go through and how many wonderful centers there are in NY that devote so much of their time to helping. I talked to a woman at the Synagogue who was also helping serve and she told me she had been volunteering every Thursday for 16 years, which made me so happy to think about all the meals she was able to serve and how many people she was able feed. She inspired me to center my life around ways I can help. I hope to use this trip as an aid in transforming myself into a more service-oriented person.

Habitat for Humanity: Lake-Sumter, Florida

Tatum Marshall’s STEP Service Project Experience

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Over Spring Break, I traveled to Eustis, Florida with twenty-nine other students to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We spent the week working on different home construction sites painting, laying flooring, installing appliances, caulking, and using power tools alongside site leaders. At the end of the week, the houses we worked on were nearly finished and we had the opportunity to meet the families that would be soon moving in.
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Before participating in this trip, I had never traveled for volunteer work or helped with any service projects on this large of a scale. I  developed strong relationships with strangers in a place I had never been in a very short period of time, which is very bold and atypical for my character. Helping to build houses for low-income individuals both humbled and empowered me. Over the course of the week, I realized that my effort could achieve such necessary and helpful change for others. The hands-on approach gave me a new appreciation for manual labor and the importance of home-ownership. I hadn’t realized before this trip that I had the ability and opportunity to influence other lives in such a positive way.

In addition to this realization, I became acutely aware of the presence of hope and ambition in others. Before our Habitat for Humanity orientation, I had thought that the organization was a charity, providing houses to poor families for free. Once I arrived in Florida, I learned that the home-owners must still pay adjusted rent and provide labor as another form of payment. The home-owners that we were building for left their families to toil alongside us in the hot sun. All of them had other jobs and most of them were raising young children. Witnessing this dedication and hard work in the home-owners and in the other volunteers really inspired me.

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There were several aspects of the trip that played major roles in my transformation. One of the most influential parts of my service experience was relationship-building within my volunteer group. Our trip of thirty was split into three groups, one of fifteen and two of seven. I was assigned to one of the smaller groups, and at first knowing no one made me nervous. However, the seven of us really banded together during the week to accomplish so much for the house. We put in long hours of work every day, but managed to keep good attitudes and make jokes. I learned so much about my fellow volunteers in those working hours and built lasting friendships. Bonding through service helped me realize that human beings can always come together to serve a greater purpose. This experience also taught me to embrace opportunities to meet new people and to be more open to new relationships.

Another critical part of my service experience was the actual hard labor presented by home-building. I had never renovated a house or used a power tool until this trip, and I learned more than I could have imagined about how to assemble parts of a home. Our two site leaders, Bob and Doris, were very supportive, even though  most of us had never done any of the tasks they presented to us. Their instruction gave us confidence and taught us many useful skills. This part of the trip has inspired me to believe in myself when facing difficult tasks and to never hesitate to ask when in need of a lesson.

In addition to these two factors, another major role in my experience was filled by Carlos, our main contact for Habitat for Humanity. On the first day of the trip, Carlos told us about the history of the organization and explained the important role we would be playing in the lives of the home-owning families. Throughout the week, he would stop by with the families and introduce us. He showed me what it looks like to lead a life defined by and dedicated to the service of others. I have the utmost respect for him, and watching him enjoy his position in this non-profit has influenced me on my career track.

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The experiences I had on this service trip have since shaped my life and the choices I have made for my future. One major way that I have changed as a result of this trip is in my application for a study abroad trip. I have always wanted to travel to another country, but previously I was nervous about going so far away with people I didn’t know. After the amazing friendships I made in Florida, I felt confident in my ability to acclimate to a different country and applied for the Literary Locations in Greece trip. Just this week I was accepted and am proud to say that I am excited to travel abroad and I hope to continue to travel for the rest of my life.

Another way that this experience has influence me is in my application for PA school. Prior to this trip, I had been unsure about pursuing a career in the medical field. However, after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, I realized how much I care about the well-being of other people and I have chosen to dedicate my life to protect that well-being. I am applying to graduate school’s next year to pursue my goal of becoming a physician’s assistant so that I can spend the rest of my life improving the health of others.

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