For those of you who do not know, The Ohio State University has a mission, vision, set of values and core goals. At Ohio State, we value excellence, diversity in people and of ideas, inclusion, access and affordability, innovation, collaboration and multidisciplinary endeavor, and integrity. Undoubtedly, these values are important. However, I never had a first-hand experience to allow me to see why these values were important to me personally. I am happy to now say after going on my first Buck-I-SERV trip, I feel more connected than ever to these university values.
This past spring break, I went to Appalachia Ohio in a place called Vinton County with five fellow Buckeyes to serve. Although we were there to teach about college access, I think I was the one who ended up learning the most. Growing up in a suburb of Columbus, I did not know what to expect going to one of the most rural parts of Columbus. However, I know that I never expected to be enlightened so much by the people that I met and by the beauty of Appalachia Ohio. In my week in Vinton county, we worked with elementary, middle, and high school kids. Through various activities, we were there to promote the idea of pursuing something after high school, whether it be a 4-year college or a technical school.
In my time there, I saw many hardships. I talked to the teachers who told me about the lack of support in many of the households the kids were raised in. I heard some disappointing and tragic stories. It is easy to focus on the bad, but I want to focus on the good, and in my time in Vinton County, I saw so much good. I saw the investment of individuals at the Ohio State Extension Office working to make sure children could participate in engaging programs after school. I met students who had such a strong commitment and pride associated with their family, which was admirable to see. I met a high school English teacher, who is also a retired lawyer. She realized the legal system could not help the community, so she became a teacher. It was inspirational to see how she would could motivate any and all students. She valued each student’s uniqueness and believed that they could be great, even when they did not believe this themselves.
Coming from a fairly privileged background, it is easy for me to think that places like the inner-city and rural Ohio are in need of “fixing” and do not have much to offer. Yet, the reality is, there is a lot that I have learned and can learn by exposing myself to such communities. I have learned to better value the diversity of experience. I have learned the importance of having a strengths-based perspective, which is focusing on others’ abilities, talents, and resources, rather than others’ problems and deficits. I have learned and seen the impact of genuine dedication and investment towards a community. I am thankful to Ohio State and Buck-I-SERV for allowing me the opportunity to widen my perspective and feel better connected to the values that we hold dear as Buckeyes.