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 a 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.