My Summer with The Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati

I spent my summer working as the social media coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati, as well as working as a primary care giver for my mother who has Early-Onset Alzheimer’s. As a social media coordinator, I was responsible for documenting fundraising events, posting about events, and keeping our followers in the loop regarding upcoming opportunities. As a care giver, I was responsible for taking care of meals, pills, and all the activities my mom has to do daily to keep her as mentally sharp as possible.

I have always known that I am an incredibly capable person. I have taken pride in the fact that I can handle most things that are thrown at me but I realized this summer how much strength I possess. This summer I had to learn how to operate as a working professional who has deadlines and expectations, as well as learn how to balance the emotional struggle that comes with caring for a sick parent. This constant struggle of being pulled in multiple directions taught me balance.

As social media coordinator of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati, I attended many different fundraisers for The Longest Day in June. The Longest Day is on the summer solstice and encourages community members to form teams and participate in their favorite activities while fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Association. On this day, I got to attend memory gardens, bake sales, and even golf outings. I got to interact with and take pictures of people who were so passionate about finding the cure for Alzheimer’s. It was an incredibly

nurturing experience to see that so many people in my community were out there fighting for a better future for people like my mom.

The impact that The Longest Day had on me was profound. It deepened my desire to get involved with this organization, as well as made it clear that to best serve an organization I have to be diligent with my time and passionate about the work I am doing. Before I thought all you needed to make a difference was a voice and a love for your cause. I realize that while those two things are valuable, they are not the most valuable tools for change. Through talking to people in my community who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s, I learned to listen. I was able to utilize that skill with my mom every time she got frustrated by her growing confusion.

I used my STEP stipend to fund living at home for the summer through paying for rent, gas, and food. Without this I would not have been able to afford staying home this summer and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow from caring for my mom. Through this time at home and caring for my mom I learned patience and kindness. Many times I had to be the adult of the situation which can be rather frustrating when you are used to being your parent’s child. I had to learn to change my frustration into patience because it became quite clear that anger would get me no where.

The changes I underwent due to my STEP project will continue to benefit me in both a personal and professional setting. My ultimate goal is to work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, through this profession I will have to be reliable, empathetic, and a good listener. My experiences with the Alzheimer’s Association and my mom have taught me how to do these things. These lessons also will be easily applied to my personal life by helping to make me a better friend and family member.

 

The Akumanyi Foundation: Senya, Ghana

This summer, I went on a two week service trip through Buck-I-Serv to Senya, Ghana partnered with the Akumanyi Foundation. The purpose of our trip was to work with the children and staff of Becky’s Children Home and the partnered school in the local community. Becky’s Children’s home houses over 50 children ranging from 4 to 16 that could no longer be supported by their families for a multitude of reasons. Our tasks ranged from playing with the children in the evening at the home, helping the Madame’s of the home with daily tasks and chores, and helping proctor exams and teach at the school. Also throughout our trip we made a conscious effort to immerse ourselves in the Ghanaian culture and community at every opportunity

Going on this trip really changed my perspective on how I live my life and how I view the world in a larger scope. This trip was my first time truly going out of the country and I did not know what to expect. Unfortunately, the only things I knew about Africa was the stereotypes that are often propagated through our media. When we arrived in Ghana, I was shocked to see sprawling urbancenters in a place where we only here about their poverty and insufficiencies. While it seems trivial, I was also expecting to see barren deserts and the token African animals we all learn about like giraffes, elephants, and lions but was again shocked by the beautiful tropical landscape and pristine beaches. This seeming small discongruence showed me how much we generalize Africa as a continent instead of taking the time to actually learn about the individual countries and their cultures. I understand why many are hesitant to branch out of their comfort zones to learn about new people and places as it was extremely difficult for me to adjust to a totally new place. There are many stark differences between Ghanaian culture and American culture and their means of living differed a lot from my own. Where we stayed had no running water, no cell service, no air conditioning and very limited electricity. For the first few days of the trip these material inconveniences were all that I focused on, but as time went no learned to let go and fully immerse myself in the service we were doing. In the end, I was happy that we lacked these “essentials” as we grew a lot closer as a group and we focused more on the purpose of our trip.

One of the most eye-opening experiences I had in Senya was going to the local school that waspartnered with the children’s home. While this was considered one of the better schools in the region, there was little to no order within the school and it was not an environment conducive to learning. I was shocked to see the sharp disparity between how these Ghanaian schools compared to American schools. While education is obviously very important, I had no idea how much a lack of education plays into the cycle of poverty until I witnessed it first hand. These children did not have access to adequate education, and therefore could not go on to get higher paying jobs that would allow them to move to higher social class and send their children to better schools. The responsibilities placed on these children also blew me away. In my home, my only responsibilities included doing well in my schoolwork and a handful of light chores. Many of the children we saw in the community woke up at dawn to cook and clean the house, would go to a full day of school, come home to do more chores like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, then stay up well into the night to complete their schoolwork.

While it seems like I am only pointing out the flaws of the Ghanaian infrastructure, there were so many in the community. The people of Ghana are some of the most kind, welcoming, and open people I have ever met. Even walking around in packed markets, everyone you passed would say hello and strike up a meaningful conversation with you. Even those who had next to nothing would offer us a meal or whatever else they had. These people always had a smile on their face and we so eager to welcome us into our community and teach us about their culture. I feel like often time in the U.S. we assume that other know everything about our cultures and customs and will immediately adopt them into practice or we become angry and unwilling to teach them when their practices differ from our own. I have definitely tried to bring back this small piece of Ghana to my communities at home. I tried to be more conscious of how I interact with those around me and I’ve tried to reach out and build more meaningful relationships with others.

I also think this trip allowed me to break out of my comfort zone a lot which has been extremely transformational for me. Being thrust into a foreign land which customs and traditions I was not accustomed too, I was very nervous and uneasy. I also didn’t know many of the other members of the group before we departed so for the first couple of days I felt very alone. However, I knew what Iwanted to get out of this experience so I gave myself the initial push to step out of my comfort zone and make my self experience Ghana to the fullest. Everyday I made the conscious effort to interact with those in our Buck-I-Serv group and those in the community around us. I made an effort to say “yes” to any experience that was offered to us, rather that be just a walk through town or a canopy walk through a national park. I consider myself more of a shy and introverted person and while I accept this part of my personality, I feel like these traits have held me back a lot in my life. I see this trip as almost a gateway to more experiences I can have abroad and even at home now that I am more outgoing and confident.

This specific trip was particularly meaningful for me as it related to my future career and professional goals. I am currently a student in Ohio State’s College of Nursing working towards my BSN and licensure as an RN. I also currently work as a PCA at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in a hands patient care role. This career I have chosen is obviously very service oriented and has a direct impact on the community and its members. The drastic differences in healthcare in Ghana compared to the U.S. made me want to do more to improve health on a larger, global scale. My experience with healthcare has been, up until this point, so acute and focused on individual patients but this experience opened my eyes up to how healthcare as an institution affects the individual members of the community. Even though there might be a doctor in Ghana that can provide high quality, personalized care many people do not have transportation to healthcare facilities, funds or insurance to pay for their care, or the time to step away from their other duties and responsibilities at home. I hope that as I continue to learn and become an expertise in medicine and healthcare, I can use my skills to continue to serve the world and I will always look back on this experience as the first step I took in this lifelong passion of mine.

 

Reflection: EMT Certification & Wexner Medical Center Volunteer

Alivia Grochowski

For my STEP project, I lived in Columbus over the summer and volunteered at the Wexner Medical Center. I was enrolled in a course to obtain my EMT certification through Central Ohio EMS Training and received my national licensure at the end of summer 2017.

When I first thought of this project, my goal was to gain a better understanding of what I want to do after graduation from Ohio State. I thought this project would help me decide if medical school was what I wanted. Now that this project is over, I still do not know if medical school is right for me, but a lot of other aspects of myself and my view of the world have changed. I realized I love emergency medicine and hands-on patient care, as opposed to the behind-the-scenes patient care I have experienced at the hospital as a volunteer.

Volunteering in the pharmacy taught me a lot about different types of drugs and how hospital pharmacies work. Although there was no direct patient care, I helped the staff who was in turn helping the patients. I felt very appreciated by the staff at the Wexner Medical Center, but I realized I did not feel like I was making as big of an impact as I can. I also realized I will not want to work in an office for my career.

Learning how to be an EMT and completing my clinical hours riding on an ambulance was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. As an EMT or even and EMT-in-training, people who need help are looking up to you. I went to the scene of a motor vehicle accident where a 12-year-old girl was injured. Being a person that she trusted and could help talk her through what was happening was a feeling like no other. This was a life-changing experience that made me realize emergency medicine is where I belong.

One day as I was completing clinical hours, I spoke with a paramedic who gave me advice about school and jobs in EMS. She suggested MedCare as a company to work for after I finished school, and I took her advice. I now have a job for MedCare and already appreciate everything I am able to do. Also at my new job, I met a fellow student from Ohio State who was similar to me in that she was a pre-med student and is now an EMT, trying to figure out what to do after graduation. This made me feel more comfortable in the fact that I am not alone and someone else is following the same path as me.

I had a very difficult summer trying to balance class, work, research and volunteering, but I am extremely thankful I got to spend it in Columbus. I made a few connections in the Wexner Medical Center, lifelong friends in my EMT class, and enhanced the relationship with my research coordinator. Although I am still not entirely sure what I want to do after graduation, I am confident that I want to stay in Columbus and help this community. I know that I am on the right path and now am much more motivated to do well in school and finish my last two years at OSU strong. I will definitely continue to help my community, both as an EMT and as a volunteer.

     

 

STEP Signature Project: Volunteering with SARNCO

Jewel Tomlinson

Service-Learning & Community Service Project: Volunteering With SARNCO

  1. My STEP signature project was completing 45 hours of intensive training in order to become a volunteer advocate with SARNCO, the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio. I attended advocate training at Riverside Hospital from 8am-5pm for a full week in early June. After completing the training I began taking volunteer shifts as an advocate on the 24 hour sexual assault helpline, and I plan to continue this volunteering through my final two years at OSU.
  2. Completing the 45 hours of training in order to become an advocate was an extremely transformative experience. I learned crisis counseling skills, how to understand and overcome personal bias, and self care strategies to use during and after working in crisis situations. Of these skills, I think the most important and most transformative thing I learned was understanding biases and how to work with and advocate for individuals from all different populations and backgrounds.
  3. During training each day we had speakers come in and educate us on different aspects of advocacy. Many of the speakers represented very specific populations that we may come in contact with on the helpline or in the hospital as advocates. For example, we had a training session specifically targeted to working with incarcerated populations. The speaker for this session started by asking us to examine our own personal biases towards incarcerated people.                         Everyone would like to believe that they aren’t biased at all, but the speaker highlighted that fact that instead of pretending we have no biases it is important to confront them in order to overcome them. If you recognize and are aware of your preconceived notions about any particular population or group of people from a certain background, you can work to overcome them and can more successfully be of service to that group. In the case of working with incarcerated individuals who may be calling the sexual assault helpline it is important to recognize that just because a person did something to end up in jail does not mean that they are a bad person and does not mean that they are any less deserving of advocacy support.                                                                            This idea was a key theme in many of the speakers presentations. In addition to talking about incarcerated populations we had speakers who represented  immigrants, recovering addicts, the elderly, homeless individuals, male assault survivors, and many more. These presentations transformed the way I look at my own opinions and biases and the approach I take to doing advocacy work.
  4. This transformation relates to my future career goals of becoming a genetic counselor. Advocacy experience in general is important to becoming a genetic counselor because in my future career I will be counseling patients in high stress situations. The transformative presentations about dealing with bias and all types of populations will also apply directly to my future as a genetic counselor. I will be counseling patients who come from all different walks of life and with different educational backgrounds. To successfully work with my patients it will be important for me to recognize the particular situation of each individual and provide them with quality counseling regardless of any personal biases I may have.

Step Reflection: Service-Learning in Cochabamba

Type of Project: Service-Learning & Community Service

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

My STEP Signature Project had me volunteering in a charity for economically disadvantaged disabled children for a span of three weeks at the end of last summer in Cochabamba, Bolivia. My main responsibilities including playing constructive games with the children, most aged 9-12, such as dancing, as well as keeping them under control, which proved quite a struggle at times. I would say about half or just over half of the children, numbering about 25, had down syndrome, while a fourth were in wheelchairs, and another fourth had other disabilities including autism. Every day proved a new challenge in controlling the children, as many would try to run out or lash out in violence at other children; commonly, I stepped in to calm down the kids, often having to rely on silly games to get them distracted.

 

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

 

I’ve had an immense amount of experience abroad, having lived in Caracas, Venezuela for 7 years and having been to five continents before the age of 20. But never before have I been a volunteer abroad, allocating most my time to helping an organization in an impoverished community. It was a really special experience to not merely hear about an organization like CEOLI (Center for Educational and Vocational Preparation for the Disabled) but actually be a part of their noble mission and feel I was giving back. Unlike a lot of the banality I trudge through at Ohio State, the challenges I faced were difficult ones I grew from taking on each and every day.

In terms of direct appreciation, I’d say that the public school I attended had fantastic resources for disabled children. CEOLI was not just an after-school or summer “daycare” for the children (as I had first imagined), it was their entire school. These were children whose parents could not pay for expensive special care at exclusive schools, so CEOLI operated as their education from age 3 to age 18, and even further for some as the organization attempts to get jobs for the kids. I grew really close to many of the children, and it breaks my heart to think about them still down there because I really hope that they can receive the care they need from CEOLI but it’s quite an uphill battle. The whole experience made me appreciative of the resources we have here in many parts of the US for disabled children, and I really wish those kids had that same care.

 

 

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

While I like to think I grew close to all the children I volunteered with, there was one in particular I grew a lot from. Belen Milagros was one of the youngest children in the classroom I volunteered in at 9 years old. She had down syndrome and was one of the wildest children, the teacher nicknaming her a “free spirit.” She would be one of the first children to get to the center each day and proved quite a struggle to calm down, loving to run around and escape the classroom to the playground at the center, getting into the trampoline and refusing to come out. Frozen was her absolute favorite movie, and commonly she would be close to screaming “Let It Go” (“Libre Soy” in Spanish) non-stop. She also grew very fond of me almost immediately, calling me “Papi” (daddy in Spanish) on the first occasion I met here.

It was an inconsistent relationship though; at times she’d be ecstatic as I walked into the room for the day, demanding I play with her. Other times she’d be very disinterested and play alone or sulk in a corner, not even wanting to be around other children. I always made it my mission though to get her involved with activities, using my fidget spinner or random toys in the classroom to change her spirits. Eventually, she grew to love when I picked her up, and would stand up on the tables acting like she needed help getting down just so I’d pick her up almost every hour. Every day however, I had to get more creative to keep her under control, and by the end of the trip I was more aware of her “tricks” and the appropriate action to take when she’d misbehave or demand attention. All in all though, she was one of the more energetic children to play with once she got going, and the challenges I had with her are probably the ones I directly learned the most from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another theme of the trip was independence. I was the only international volunteer on this trip, and absolutely the only person that spoke at least conversant English in the Center. There were other local University interns at the Center that I relied on for help (and friendship), but otherwise I went to CEOLI each day relying on myself to get to the Center, to communicate, and interact with the children. Likewise, I went on my own side-trip to the Uyuni salt flats near the Chilean border one weekend which required a three hour bus ride and a seven hour train ride in one direction. This was an endeavor I could have never imagined attempting in high school, traveling alone for that span of time relying on my Spanish, but truth be told it was not very challenging and I was very confident in my ability, being very cautious the whole time. On the trip itself, I was placed in a tour group with two British adults and three Austrian adults, being the youngest by about 17 years. However, I was the only person in the group to speak Spanish, and so I ended up being the group translator the entire trip between us and our Bolivian guide. I felt very proud of my ability and my confidence grew immensely from the excursion. It was perhaps the strangest social situation I’ve ever been in but it’s one I had a blast on.

 

 

Independence has not been something I’ve had to rely on as much as I thought I would my first two years of college. After the trip, I think I’ve really come to realize how much I can flourish when I not only live independently but live confidently independently. I really didn’t have a great experience in the residence halls, and instead of blaming myself like before, after the trip I really just think that the hyper-social culture, centered around an RA I never really wanted to get to know, was not conducive for my well-being. I might be in the minority on that, because I do realize that the residence halls usually cultivate strong friendships and healthy living patterns. But I don’t feel bad about appreciating independence anymore and I feel I can flourish now that I have this knowledge.

 

 

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Last semester, in short, was rough. Extremely rough. It was already a fairly tough semester with activities and classes, and then I had a very unfortunate and unexpected death in the family right before spring break. Post spring break semester felt unbearable at times, due to sadness and stress. I had two jobs, seventeen credit hours, extracurriculars, and endless internship applications that swamped me into an over-worked mess. Truthfully I get anxiety just thinking about the semester. Add in the very mediocre job I had at Morrill Tower for the first 2/3 of the summer, and this trip was my light at the end of the tunnel (a seemingly never-ending one at times). I faced a lot of doubt from people though, many amazed I was doing this alone, wondering what in the world I would do for recreation. Some even thought this might blow up in my face, that I had no idea what I was taking on. My own parents were somewhat concerned too, though they never once suggested I not do the trip. I didn’t disagree with a lot of the qualms people had, some were very fair because this was a very different kind of trip. Truth be told, I had a lot of the same doubts in the back of my head, and though I did a good job of keeping them dormant they were absolutely still there.

The trip, however, was absolutely everything I could have dreamed of and more. It was exactly what I needed after all I faced last semester and in the summer. More importantly though, what I take away most from the trip is the realization that the trip was only that amazing because of my attitude. I went in with all that doubt accompanied with a healthy attitude to prove it wrong, and that I did within the first week. Many situations/scenarios I would have previously been uncomfortable with, such as the 45 minute bus ride to the Center that also required me to scream “Esquina!” to get off of (instead of there being pre-set bus stops), my exclusively Spanish-speaking host family, the Uyuni-salt flats trip with 5 foreign adults all at least seventeen years older than me, and not to mention the actual service itself, were ones I had no problem with because I was flexible and understanding. I took nothing for granted and had no entitlement whatsoever, grateful for all the help I received with no expectations other than to wake up the next day once more to do my duty. I made friends quickly with people I would usually probably not be friends with, cultivating connections I still currently have now. This unselfish attitude that I reaped great dividends from is something I hope to carry with me in my personal and professional goals, because I realize, especially in contrast to much of my time at Ohio State, how much I ended up flourishing form it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP project – Becoming an EMT

For my STEP signature project, I enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician course at Columbus State Community College. In this course, I learned how to take care of patients in all types situations as well as basic Emergency Medical Services operations. Following the completion of the course, I took the National Registry exam, which granted me my official EMT-basic license after passing. Gaining certification as an Emergency Medical Technician allowed me to gain hands-on experience in the medical field and provided me with the knowledge and practice to help me decide if a career in medicine is right for me. Going forward, I’m excited to serve my community by volunteering with a local fire department next summer.

Coming into the beginning of the summer, I was anxious about starting this project. I felt unsure about how I would perform in the role of EMT, whether or not I would be able to make an impact on the patients I worked with, and whether or not I could handle the pressure of emergency situations with the kind of calm, collected manner that the job demands. I also assumed that all the pressure would be on me, as the EMT. I quickly realized that this is not the case, and that I would always have other health care professionals to help along the way. I was happy to discover that the role of an EMT in a clinical setting is very much collaborative, working alongside other EMTs and nurses in the ER to care for patients. I learned that I will never be solely responsible for the care of a patient. I also walked away with a new appreciation for the health care providers and the many challenges they have to deal with on the job. The coursework was both academically challenging and physically demanding, but it taught me a great deal about the career I hope to pursue in medicine as well as how to care for others in a clinical setting.

The coursework was demanding, with classes lasting four hours a day, every week day, for 12 weeks. The homework and study load was rigorous, with exams, clinicals, and practicals almost weekly. I was challenged academically as well, putting hours into learning every muscle and bone of the body, each medication dosage, every emergency protocol. As an Emergency Medical Technician student, I had to think on my feet, adapt to difficult situations, and think critically and confidently about the best course of treatment for a patient while working in the Emergency Room. I am grateful to have learned from excellent preceptors and instructors in the field who challenged me to learn and grow as a student and as an individual.

At the end of the course, each student had to pass the National Registry practical, consisting of seven skills that we had learned throughout the summer. One by one we would go into the testing rooms, demonstrating skills to the preceptors. The skills consisted of a medical assessment, a trauma assessment, hooking up oxygen to a regulator, applying oxygen therapy to an apneic patient, CPR, treating bleeding and shock, and immobilizing a patient on a spinal board. I remember feeling terrified leading up to that day, so concerned that I would forget one small part and fall the course. It motivated me to focus on mastering the skills, taking extra time before and after class and reaching out for extra help from preceptors. By the time testing day rolled around I felt confident in my abilities. Looking back—I realize that I have gained a new sense of confidence having put so much time and energy into mastering those skills and being able to complete them perfectly when the time came.

This experience will help me navigate between different career paths and provide me with a set of transferable skills that can be used in any job. I hope to pursue a career in the field of healthcare upon graduation, and the experience I will gain as an EMT will be invaluable in this pursuit. Although the more difficult part of my project is complete, I am not finished, and I look forward to putting my newfound knowledge into practice. I have begun to explore the different opportunities in Columbus for volunteer EMTs, with the hope of starting in the next year. I amhumbled by the opportunity to help those most in need and to make a lastly impact on the lives of those in my community.

Looking back on the beginning of the summer and the start of my project, I was anxious about the future, doubting that I would be able to relate to and help patients in the ways that I wanted to. Today, I am proud to call myself a National Registered, State-Certified Emergency Medical Technician. I feel confident that if the time were ever to arise that someone’s life was in my hands, I would have the skills, knowledge and self-assurance needed to give that person the best care.

As I come toward the end of my second year here at Ohio State, I begin to look back on the experiences that have shaped my college education thus far. One of these pivotal experiences has been my participation in the Second-Year Transformation Experience Program. Participating in this program afforded me the opportunity to develop relationship with faculty, learn more about leadership, organization, and self-care, and to pursue an independent project that will prepare me for my future in the medical field. My STEP project allowed me to realize my own potential, and I have come out of this experience with a new-found excitement and motivation to one day change lives as a medical professional.

 

Buck-I-SERV: The Akumanyi Foundation, Senya, Ghana

I spent two weeks living, learning, and serving in the beautiful country of Ghana.  In terms of service, we spent most of our days at Becky’s Children’s Home doing everything from brushing the kids’ hair to climbing with them on the monkey bars.  The home is partnered with a school which allows the children to attend for free.  We also spent a few days in the school proctoring and grading exams alongside the teachers.

As I have learned from past experiences in service, there is always the opportunity for me to evaluate and “check” my own privilege.  This is definitely something I took away in terms of my understanding of self.  I could walk away from the trip saying it changed my life and I will never be the same because in a way that is true.  That however, can be said about almost any experience a person has in their life.  The most important thing that I walked away with is the perspective I gained while living inside the country of Ghana.  Ghana is not Africa just as Africa is not Ghana.  Ghana is a country found on the continent of Africa, along with 53 other individual countries with their own individual cultures.  My trip to Ghana reinforced this idea as I was immersed in the culture by interacting with locals, eating the food, traveling, and learning the language.  

I feel as if I can often best portray my thoughts with photos to support them.  I can’t resist photos of this style and therefore compiled quite a few during the trip. Each of them carries a bit of insight into a different experience I had.  

 This was taken during one of our early mornings at the children’s home as we helped them prepare for school.  Their morning routine consisted of bathing, hair brushing, searching for their uniform, teeth brushing, morning worship, household chores, and breakfast.  Rising with the roosters around 5AM,  the mornings were quite early.  However, the energy of the kids even at this time of day, made mornings exciting and helped us put our best foot forward for the rest of the day.  

This was taken from inside of the kindergarten classroom in which I assisted.  Because the children were taking exams, we only got to visit the school for a few of the days that we were there.  While at the school, I helped proctor the exams in the kindergarten room as well as graded them alongside the teacher.  The teacher was so friendly and so excited to have a helper in the class.  Kindergarten children can be quite inattentive and rambunctious.  On my first day in the classroom the children were taking their religion exam.  The exam included a portion in which the kids were asked to draw the biblical figures, David and Goliath.  The teacher wanted to provide an example for the kids to base their drawing on and so I was handed the dry erase marker and instructed to depict David and Goliath.  The pressure was on and I was nervous about what to include and how to make it simple enough for kindergarten students to duplicate.  Thankfully, my catholic education did not fail me and i was able to accurately depict the pair, with much thanks from the teacher who stressed her lack of artistic ability.  I was so happy walking out of the classroom that day.  Though it was definitely frustrating trying to walk 20+ kids through an exam they could barely read, I was able to see the payoff when I helped the teacher grade the exams on which the kids did very well.  

This was taken from inside of the shower in the volunteer house.  The showers we took were called “bucket showers” which consisted of us filling a bucket of water to dump over ourselves.  Though more cold and labor intensive than what I am used to, a shower was much appreciated after a day spent outside.  In a strange way I was humbled by the act of taking a shower.  Something about filling a bucket with (not-warm) water and lugging it into the shower to then pour over yourself makes you think twice about the luxury of showering that we experience at home.

This was taken at the slave castle we visited in the region called Cape Coast.  This was where slaves were kept before they were shipped away to be sold.  The door pictured here, previously titled “The Door of No Return” was the last door that African men and women stepped through before boarding the boats.  It has since been decorated with a sign on the opposite side renaming it to “The Door of Return” and painted on the wall inside, the very first thing you see upon entering is the word “akwaaba” which is Twi (one of the Ghanaian languages) for “welcome.”  Freed slaves have used this door to return to their home and it is symbolic of the regaining of the freedom that was once stripped from them.  The tour of the castle was heart-wrenching and scarily eye-opening as many of the details and things we learned on the hour long tour are not things that we are not taught in our history classes.  However, it is something that everyone should become educated on to some extent and I am thankful to have been.  I was fairly emotional while in the castle, upset that people felt as if something as abysmal as slavery was right and just.  

As a public health major with a specialization in sociology, I feel it is important that I understand how all kinds of people different than myself live their lives.  Whether of higher class or lower class, everyone can benefit from public health interventions and programs.  Oftentimes, public health is more necessary in low income areas such as the region of Ghana that I visited and I therefore gained an important perspective into how public health can be useful in cultures such as the Ghanaian culture.  I feel as if immersing myself in the culture allowed me to gain more than just an outsider’s perspective.  Though I in no way feel as if I know everything about the country, I have gained a better perspective while also harboring such high respect for the people and country as I was welcomed with open arms for the two weeks that I was there.  

One fun thing I also did was bring a smaller handheld, waterproof, shockproof camera in addition to the big one I used to take the majority of my photos.  I handed the camera over to the kids and let them run free with it.  While there were a lot of useless pictures, some of them turned out really cute and fun.  Below are a few of the photos of kids taken by kids.

Ghana: Buck-I-SERV and The Akumanyi Foundation

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent two weeks (July 24th– August 7th) in Senya Beraku, Ghana with 11 other Ohio State students on a Buck-I-SERV trip through The Akumanyi Foundation.  The Akumanyi Foundation’s goal is to improve the lives and living conditions of vulnerable youth and women.  Our days were spent exploring the Central Region of Ghana, immersing ourselves in Ghanaian culture, and serving through the efforts of The Akumanyi Foundation.  The majority of our time was spent at Becky’s Children’s Home and at the school.  Becky’s Children’s Home is an orphanage that is home to 55 children, providing them with basic necessities and education (for free). Both the home and the school where we volunteered are run by an inspiring community leader, Seth Asiedu.

 

Every day spent in Ghana was filled spending time with the children and meaningful excursions; truly maximizing our time there.  A typical day consisted of being woken by the roosters at around 5am (or earlier).  We would roll out of bed and leave the volunteer home by 5:30 and headed to the Children’s home.  The group divided tasks and chores including showering the children, brushing their hair, making beds, cooking and breakfast, laundry, and getting the kids ready for school.  These seem like small tasks, but our help was greatly appreciated by the few “Madams” that work at the home. All 55 children (and more that were picked up before arriving at the children’s home) piled into the van to head to school.  The van they took to school was the same one we were transported in.  We thought it was a tight squeeze with us in the van, but after seeing all the kids pile in there were no more complaints about space from us from that point on.  We would get back to the volunteer house, eat breakfast, reflect, and plan out the rest of the day.  Most days were spent assisting the school teachers proctor and grade exams, while others were spent exploring the local town of Senya or visiting nearby markets and cities.  In the evening, we would return to the Children’s home to help with homework, serve dinner, and play with the kids.  We also go the opportunity to go on a few longer excursions include visiting Cape Coast, Kakum National Park, Kokrobite Beach, Accra Cultural Market, and Kasoa.  Overall our days were extremely busy, but this allowed us to get the most out of the experience.

Going into this trip I had no idea what to really expect.  There was no way to fully prepare myself for the experiences I was about to have.  The pre-meetings and information given to us before our departure were extremely helpful, but couldn’t wholly describe what I was about to embark on. The information and personal experiences shared with us before our departure allowed us to gain a basic understanding of what we would be doing, but nothing could prepare me for the emotional, physical, and mental transformations that I would have during my two weeks in Ghana.

As soon as we arrived in Ghana, we were welcomed with open arms to their country and into their culture.  This was something that I was not expecting.  We were strangers, we spoke a different language, we looked different, yet they still welcomed us.  This was my first impression of Ghanaians.  Any butterflies that I had before getting off the plane were gone, after being welcomed in such a manner.  This sense of genuine interactions continued throughout my time in Ghana.  People actually cared.  People wanted to talk to you.  They wanted to know about you. They wanted to tell you about themselves and their stories.  The conversations I had with various people in Ghana were some of the most authentic conversations I have had in my life.  I felt like someone was actually interested in what I had to say and wanted to learn from me and vis versa.  This is something that I do not normally experience at home in the US.  Often times I feel that conversations in the US are almost forced; that what I am saying doesn’t actually matter to the people I am talking to (of course not in all cases).  While of course I have genuine conversations with people in the US, there was something different about the way in which conversations were held in Ghana. I felt that I could have a genuine conversation with almost anyone I spoke with, whether it be a child or adult, a stranger or someone I had already met.  This is one difference that has led to a transformation in the way I live my life.  I am now conscious about the conversations I have, and try to be as genuine as possible.  I also have strived to step out of my comfort zone and speak to people that I normally wouldn’t have before, to have a meaningful conversation that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

In Ghana I was forced to step out of my comfort zone.  The way of living in Ghana is very different from my daily routine at home.  Bucket showers, unpredictable electricity, mosquito nets, hand washing laundry, and foreign food; all things that forced me to question my daily habits.  The example that I would like to go into detail is bucket showers.  The first bigger bucket you fill with water, and the second smaller bucket you use to pour water over your head.  When it was explained to us we all accepted it, but no one wanted to try it out quite yet.  By the end of our first day out in the sun, people started giving in to the inevitable.  My first bucket shower changed my perspective.  You are required to be conscious of how much water you give yourself to bathe with. I filled the bucket almost to the top for my first shower, expecting it not even be enough.  The freezing cold water hit the top of my head and I got a shiver down my whole body.I shampooed and washed my body, then rinsed, then conditioned, rinsed again, and then rinsed one final time.  I looked in the bucket and thought I had forgotten to do something as there was half a bucket of water left.  I had only used half a bucket of water to shower!  I was quiet the rest of the night as I was thinking about how much I am unaware of my habits at home.  One 10-minute shower at home is definitely more water than I showered with the whole time I was in Ghana.  This along with other of the activities and items listed above are things that have led to a transformation in the way I live my life.  I have now become more aware of my daily habits including my resource use.  I have taken a step back and have focused on the bigger picture, and as a result have tried to live more simply and more aware of my actions.

 

The sense of community in Ghana is one that I wish everyone could experience for their whole life.  Not only are families close, but entire villages.  There is an unspoken requirement to protect and look out for one another.  While walking through the streets of Senya this idea was extremely prevalent.  Children were running around with no parent supervision, food stands were left unaccompanied, and people were constantly helping others.  At one-point Prince, an in-country staff member, told us that if something were to happen while we were in Ghana, a Ghanaian would protect us before one of their own. I was so shocked by his statement because that behavior would be hard to find in the US.  This sense of community is something I had trouble leaving behind because it is hard to find something like this in the US.  We are used to people keeping to themselves and not wanting to share what they have to offer with others.  Ghanaians do this on their own, without the encouragement or persuasion by others to form a community.  I was able to experience many genuine, authentic communities throughout my time travelling in Ghana.   This sense of community is something that has transformed the way I live my life.  I now place more value in the sense of community and surround myself by people who want to contribute to and be a part of one.  While the majority of the US is not community based like it is in Ghana, you can make the conscious choice to surround yourself by a community that is supportive and encouraging, like what I experienced in Ghana.

 

The children of Becky’s Children Home also transformed me greatly.  These children are some of the happiest, most inspiring, genuine people I have ever met.  They were shy at first, but after 2 minutes they were all smiles and constant laughter and talking.  I looked forward to going there every day and struggled to leave.  Seeing how little they have and the circumstances that put them in the home, and still how happy and loving they are was truly something you don’t see every day.  They loved each other like family and after our first day with them I felt like part of that family. They respected and looked out for each other, as they did for us.  They have some of the most creative and innovative minds I’ve ever encountered; making flutes out of bamboo and toy cars out of bottle caps and wood.  Their passion to learn is something that can’t be taught.  They strive to do well in school and have dreams of being doctors, teachers, soccer players, and so much more.  Nothing can stop these kids and they have truly inspired me and transformed the way I view the world.  They have taught me to always be positive and to be grateful for everything.

These transformations are something that I am so happy have been incorporated into my daily life and have changed my perspective of myself and the world.  These changes are something that I have been told to make in the past, but without having personal experience or someone tell a story along with it, it was hard to make.  Now having been to Ghana, and experiencing a new culture, new food, new people, new places, etc. I am able to more clearly see what is important to me and what I value in life.  These transformations will and already have impacted my daily life and overall view on life and the world.  It has changed the way I act, the way I speak, the way I think, and the people I associate myself with.  I want to be able to share my experiences with those around me to give perspective into what I encountered and how it has changed me forever.  I wish I could have stayed longer, but I desperately want to return to continue to expand my perspective on the world, and return to a place in which I truly felt I could be myself.

 

WWOOF USA: From the Smokies to San Francisco

For my summer 2017 STEP Project, I travelled across America to volunteer at organic farms through a non-profit organization called WWOOF USA. At the organic farms, I had the opportunity to learn all sorts of farming skills, such as organic fertilization, planting, animal care, and more. I met a variety of people from all backgrounds who let me be a part of their daily life, and they taught me about pressing issues in the farming industry, such as the monopoly Monsanto, the flawed system to become certified organic, becoming off-the-grid, and the importance of buying local.

My STEP project connected me to organic farmers, a group of people that I never would have connected with and understood without staying with them and working for them like I did. They were all extremely different, between the huge Israeli family, the young outdoorsy couple, the nonconformist, the old activist, the microbiology expert, and the environmental engineer, but they all had a two things in common: they love what they do, and they will work really hard to do it. When I worked with each of them, they taught me how to show grit in difficult circumstances and how to show gratitude in fortunate circumstances. Moreover, they showed me that no matter if you’re rich or poor, strong or weak, old or young, you can still work hard and achieve your goals. Because of these experiences, I transformed into a more mature, hard-working, open-minded, and conscientious person.

At the first farm I visited, Katy and Mitchell taught me to look past the surface and investigate the details. Their motto was, “Work smarter, not harder”. Through teaching me companion planting, crop rotation, and upcycling, we learned how to think about issues more critically to find more valuable and efficient ways to solve problems. For example, they need fertilizer but cannot use chemical fertilizers, so they reuse human, animal, and food waste to give nutrients back to barren soil. Moreover, they put plants together so that if one plant absorbs a nutrient, the other plant replenishes it. They are also resourceful, as they built a working outdoor kitchen out of upcycled materials for very little money. They are working on becoming off-the-grid as well. On a deeper level, they also encouraged me to think critically about the inner workings of the farm system in America. Many corporate farms use artificial fertilizers and GMOs from Monsanto, and Monsanto has a patent on their strain of GMOs for a variety of plants. Consequently, Monsanto collects money from farmers using Monsanto seeds, and they won a lawsuit forcing small farms to buy new seeds every year instead of conserving seeds from past years, claiming that reusing seeds violates their patent. As a result, Monsanto controls the seeds for most non-organic farms in America, monopolizing the industry, controlling prices, and giving our much-needed farmers the short end of the stick. As a result, they are passionate about advocacy for farmers and boycotts to big businesses that support Monsanto, such as Walmart, and businesses that are not transparent about where their food comes from, such as McDonald’s. They support buying local foods at the farmer’s market and growing their own food. Thus, volunteering on Katy and Mitchell’s farm taught me to be more resourceful, detail-oriented, investigative, and informed.

At the fruit farm and vineyard in Calabasas, Ezra and Mira exemplified carpe diem; they spent their lives travelling across the world, always making the most of what they have, and always valuing the people that they love. They have a large family, and during the week I was there, they made me feel like a part of it. They let me participate in Shabbat dinner and prayer, let me celebrate the Fourth of July with them and their children, generously fed me traditional Israeli food, and spoke English with me even though they all knew Hebrew and spoke it frequently. Their selflessness as farm hosts influenced me to be more open-minded and loving to others. Moreover, the stories of their world travels and careers further fueled my adventurousness, and they proved that anyone at any age can achieve their wildest dreams as long as they have the guts to make the first step and do it. Finally, they grow organic fruits on their farm not because they have to, but because they love cultivating life. They love the process of making wine starting at the seed and ending in the cellar, and they love wine because, to them, it represents family gathering and togetherness. After spending a week with Ezra and Mira, I felt more thankful for my loving family and friends, and I felt thankful for the fortunate life I have lived.

Gordon from the public gardens in Oakland, California taught me the importance of patience, hard work, and perseverance in accomplishing measurable change in issues that matter. In 1991, a wildfire in Gordon’s community wiped out his whole house and his neighborhood, leaving many families devastated and homeless. When he saw the aftermath of the fire and the community left in shambles, he knew he had to do something to prevent such a horrifying event from happening again. For the past 16 years, Gordon has taken a hands-on approach to promoting fire safety in his community and making neighborhoods more fire safe. He leads community volunteers in clearing public lands from fire prone plants like French broom and replacing them with more fire resistant succulents. He also maintains public gardens to beautify the community. When I volunteered with him, he worked just as hard and just as long as we did, clearing bushes and debris from the space we were working along the road. Ultimately, he saw a problem in the community, the abundance of fire-prone vegetation and the lack of fire-safe practices, and he single-handedly manages to control the problem through his involvement in the government, with volunteers, and in the gardens themselves. His perseverance in managing this issue for 16 years and the hard work he puts into the public lands shows me how important they are when managing problems in my own life. His willingness to stand up for what is right and what needs to be done in his community also inspires me to be a better leader in my community.

Katy, Mitchell, Ezra, Mira, and Gordon were only a few of the people I met among the six farms at which I volunteered, but they all represent the source of the transformation that I had after taking this volunteer trip. Specifically, the critical thinking skills from Katy and Mitchell are important in my goal to become a clinical neuropsychologist. In my career, I will need to stay up to date on research concerning treatment, and I will need to think critically about details like validity, bias, and confounding variables to determine which research is credible and which is unreliable. It will be especially important for me to look into these details instead of merely accepting the hypothesis proven in the research because the well-being of my patients will depend on my judgment. More directly, the emphasis that Katy and Mitchell put on paying attention to what is in your food and where it came from relates to the psychopharmacology class that I am taking this semester, where I am learning that everything you consume affects your brain. Furthermore, my time in Calabasas with Ezra and Mira pushed me to value my friends and family and all of the experiences that I have. They taught me to stay thankful for the things that I have but always look for opportunities for improvement and adventure. Finally, Gordon made me realize that one person can make a lot of positive change with some persistence, hard work, and dedication. These skills will help me tremendously as I work my way through my last year of school and through five or six years of graduate schools. There will be many times where I will want to quit, but the persistence I learned from working on the farms will show me to focus on my goals and keep working to success. Ultimately, the people I met and the experiences I had volunteering transformed me into a more mature, thankful, loving, and stronger person, and those experiences will stay with me throughout my whole life, always reminding me to keep dreaming big and working hard.

 

Reflection

Joe Unger

Project Type: Service

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
    1. Originally, the project was supposed to be acting as a teaching assistant for a Junior Achievement class on Entrepreneurship. My advisor didn’t get enough kids to sign up, so it instead became being an entrepreneurship mentor to high school students we worked with during the spring. I spent additional time researching entrepreneurial theory and observing the habits and attitudes of the students in order to present a proposal at the end of the semester.
  2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
    1. When I started this project, I only had knowledge about entrepreneurship from classes and personal experiences. The previous summer, I had brought an app from idea phase to testing phase, and worked on marketing for a variety of small trinket items. This project enhanced and transformed my understanding of the conceptual framework of entrepreneurship. Throughout the project I read 4 books on entrepreneurship leadership, two of which I largely integrated into my proposal on edits to the business entrepreneurship course.  The book, Business Model Generation focused on different models and frameworks that could be used to properly frame an idea. The Lean Startup gave information on proper decision making and improving the idea testing process. This insight changed my understanding of entrepreneurship from a lawless and chaotic practice to a structured discipline. 

      This project also enlightened my assumptions on others’ motivations and work ethic.   I had problems throughout the summer getting my students to get anything done.  I presented them with the proper tools and helped motivate them to succeed on their project.  We could have a really successful meeting where they seemed to understand what to do to move forward, but by the agreed upon due date, they would have little done.  After talking with my advisor about this issue and learning about how other kids have succeeded under the same curriculum, I began to understand how work ethic and success at free-form projects is directly correlated with one’s upbringing and socio-economic status.  In essence, students raised in an extremely structured environment with little unconventional struggles do not work well on projects that require high autonomy and self-enforcement of deadlines
  3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
    1. One key aspect that affected this transformation was reading the texts mentioned above in tandem with working on creating the curriculum and meeting with the students regularly. These allowed me to directly reflect on the concepts I was learning.  For example, the first issue I noticed with my students at the start of the summer was the disunity amongst them and the lack of a shared vision for their business.  I helped them by working them through creating a business model canvas, a popular modern framework in the entrepreneurial space.  This visual framework forced them to put on paper and productively discuss where the points of disagreement were.

      My relationship with my service advisor from Junior Achievement along with a mentor at OSU helped me shape my vision for my proposal and to work with the students.  When I had my first draft of my framework for the revised curriculum, I presented it to an OSU mentor of mine who had worked on similar projects in the past. For example, he helped me center that the goal of the course was for students to learn about decision making in idea stage startups and that the goal shouldn’t be for the students to create a successful business.  This kept me focused on such things as the depth of information taught and order of teaching instead of figuring out how to get students to reach milestones.

      Advising the students on their project helped me see how their private school system had ultimately raised them to be lacking in the ability to work on unconventional paths.  For instance, they constantly struggled with self-discipline and time management outside of our weekly meetings.  It seemed that the lack of connection to a grade and the lack of immediate clarity often resulted in them ignoring the actual work and tasks that would have led to their success.  Instead they made brash decisions such as hiring a developer and getting in a contract they couldn’t pay instead of working on proving the underlying need.

  4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
    1. In the immediate sense, putting forth the effort this summer to develop a new course framework is helping me now as I continue to work with the organization. Also, working with the high schoolers has largely impacted my leadership abilities and has helped me in the leadership position I took on this semester.  It taught me that tools and frameworks are only as capable as those utilizing them and effort they put in.

      The deepening in understanding of startup project management and how ability to work hard is related to socio-economic upbringing will lead towards success later on in my life.  I hope to continue working with idea stage startups as I apply to business accelerators and venture capital firms to do startup consulting internships.  I now see a structured process that can be taken to develop a startup and believe in the philosophy that most startups fail because of the ability of the team and not the idea itself.  With that, I understand what makes a person that will be successful at startups.  They have to be willing to operate outside of conventional structure and have faced struggles in their life.

Check out my proposal here: JA Suggestions-26vh7ug

Also check out my blog where I wrote some reflections during June and July about working with the kids: www.jungrythoughts.wordpress.com