Over Spring Break, I had the opportunity to participate in a Buck-I-SERV trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Partnered with the Medici Project, this faith-based nonprofit organization combats a multitude of social justice issues in the cities of Atlanta, New York City, and now, in its first year, Nashville. While the trip was partially a trial and error session for future service trips in the city, Nashville welcomed us with open arms and we were quickly put to work.
When most people think of Nashville, they may think of live country music and excellent barbecue. While they are definitely not wrong, they certainly are not thinking about the over four-thousand homeless individuals within the city’s limits. Time after time, we were told that the booming, touristic city of Nashville keeps trying to push out this displaced population in order to make it more attractive to visitors. Fortunately, there are several nonprofit organizations in Nashville to help these people get back on their feet.
Each morning, we volunteered at institutions that help the homeless population in Nashville. The Nashville Rescue Mission has two separate facilities in the city, one for men and one for women and children, with the goal to restore hope and transform lives. They offer three meals a day, a warm place to stay overnight, and a live-in Life Recovery Program to those battling addiction. While at the Nashville Rescue Mission, we helped serve food to the over six-hundred individuals who use the service daily. Although a rather mundane task, the smiles of gratitude shown from the individuals we were serving make it completely worthwhile.
Aside from our mornings spent at the Nashville Rescue Mission, we spent two mornings at the Room in the Inn. Much like the Nashville Rescue Mission, the Room in the Inn provides meals and shelter for the homeless population. In addition, however, the Room in the Inn provides countless services including: postal, medical, dental, haircuts, and classes ranging from financial budgeting to arts and crafts. Our first day at Room in the Inn was spent doing indirect service by sorting clothes in the warehouse. On our next visit, we participated in a St. Patrick’s Day Jeopardy Game and an art class where we made shamrocks out of pipe cleaners with the residents at Room in the Inn.
During this art class at Room in the Inn is where I met Cornelius, a middle-aged man who put things into perspective for me. Cornelius confided in me his story, how he used to travel across the world for work, and about his son. At the end of our visit, Cornelius waved me goodbye and thanked me for making him feel human again. In retrospect, I gained much more from our conversation than Cornelius. More than anything else, the Nashville Medici Project Buck-I-SERV trip helped break preconceived stereotypes I had about the social justice issue of homelessness. Initially, I had believed homelessness was a choice based on the inability to withstand impulse buying and the lack of motivation to obtain a job. After spending the week in Nashville, I now know that more times than not, it is a series of unfortunate events that place these individuals in such a situation. Thankfully, there are nonprofit organizations put in place to help these people get back on the right track.
While each morning was spent at an institution helping the homeless, each afternoon was spent at a different elementary or middle school helping with their after-school programs. At Preston Taylor Ministries, elementary students are bussed to a separate location after their school day ends to play games, do their homework, and study the Bible. They also had different daily programming – some students ran a mile outside while others learned about love languages.
Later in the week, we visited the Stratford STEM Middle School after-school program. While there, Buck-I-SERV participants and I developed ice-breaker games to play with the students before we helped them study and do their homework. Both the Preston Taylor Ministries and the Stratford STEM after-school programs were designed to keep the students safe until their parents got home from work. In the week spent with the students, I became attached to several of them and it was hard to say goodbye. I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with the students and am thankful for the aforementioned organizations for protecting their safety and enriching their lives.
The Nashville Medici Project Buck-I-SERV trip was not all service-based as we had the weekend to tour Nashville’s hottest spots like the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, and the Parthenon. Aside from the fulfillment I received through serving others, one of my favorite parts of the experience was meeting the fellow Ohio State students also on the trip. As a student within the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and with the geographical separation from central campus, it can be difficult to make connections with students outside of the college. On this Buck-I-SERV trip, however, I met freshmen through seniors with a variety of interests and career aspirations from political science to doctors. While we only spent a week together, I know that the friendships formed on the Nashville Medici Project Buck-I-SERV trip will far exceed my remaining year at Ohio State, but they will last a lifetime. For that, I am forever thankful and continue to encourage fellow students within the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences to seek unique experiences such as my week serving others in Nashville.