My STEP Project allowed me to lead a group of student volunteers on a Buck-I-SERV trip to Greenville Humane Society. With the entire group’s effort, we had the privilege of caring for the animals staying at the Humane Society and even got to star in a commercial promoting the Humane Society.
Going into this Buck-I-SERV trip, I had already been on several different service trips with some even occurring in places across the globe. However, upon undergoing my journey to South Carolina, I was quickly in for a surprise about the difficulties that leading a group would hold. Not only was I responsible for those going on this trip with me but I also was the driver for our long excursion down to South Carolina. Despite these newfound challenges, I pressed on to inspire my group to continue to push themselves to learn more about Animal Rights in different and constructive ways. I’m very glad that I was able to take on the role of a leader and thrive off of the feedback from every group member.
The initial event that tipped me off about the weight of responsibility that I would bear was the 8-hour drive in a large van down to South Carolina. As someone who lives out-of-state, long drives weren’t foreign to me. Although, motivating the group towards opening up took several hours of boring stories and a few badly sung songs all from myself. Soon after the ice was broken several conversations were happening at the same time and a feeling of familiarity fell over the group. I believe that by undertaking this responsibility I was control over not only how fast we got there but also the safety of the group in general. In this way, I reached a new understanding of what being a leader really means and understood that even tasks that may seem tedious actually greatly impact the group.
Another crucial unexpected aspect of the trip that had to be overcome was how to spend down time together as a group. I soon learned that it’s tricky to find activities that a diverse group of individuals would be entertained by. After brainstorming potential exciting activities, everyone was able to agree to my suggestion of seeing a movie at a nearby theatre. While watching the movie I pondered other ways to keep everyone engaged and having a meaningful time, so I introduced a card game named Palace. Quickly Palace filled any free time we had for the remainder of the week as the obsession for winning and bragging rights kicked in. It’s amazing to me how such a simple game can create a bond between the group and allow everyone to express themselves. I also felt the weight of responsibility through this from finding an activity that would entertain everyone in the group without anyone being left out.
The final test that I found myself combating as a trip leader was allowing the group to reflect on the impact that they made on Greenville Humane Society. Initially, a few group members didn’t feel that we were being as beneficial as possible or that they had different expectations for the trip entirely. Slowly though team building from volunteering as well as games we would play in our free time allowed for a group dynamic to form. I was able to help several members realize that we weren’t just impacting the pets in the Humane Society but also the workers who would be able to spend more time providing care for the animals. Finally, we were able to have group discussion in which everyone shared how they thought they having an impact even the skeptics realized the mark we were leaving. Additionally, within days puppies that we had once bathed and walked were even adopted in front of our eyes! It was amazing how the accumulation of the work that we put in allowed these animals to find loving homes.
Discovering more about leadership and how to motivate a group really has inspired me to reflect more upon myself. This type of introspective thinking was quickly applied to other activities in my life whenever I had the free time to think. From showering to running, the more activities that I’m able to spend reflecting, the more I appreciate the choices that I make. I also found that advice that I shared with my group members was also applicable to my own experience. One big piece of advise that I now follow myself is that actions have a big impact even if they aren’t impacting yourself directly, so it’s important to be careful and generous with them. Another lesson that I took with me is that leading can definitely be a challenge, however by taking on a larger role I was able to hone neglected skills and bring together a group of strangers for a meaningful purpose. Moving forward I can use these newfound skills to my advantage while pursuing my career in Veterinary Medicine; first by establishing a network and bond with my classmates and later to push each other to become the best versions of ourselves possible. My Greenville trip will always be a part of me and I know that I’m different for having been a part of it.