Mentoring Vulnerable Youth in Columbus

By Jack Brandl

My signature project supported and empowered young people that have previously been incarcerated or are likely to be incarcerated due to a variety of factors. This endeavor expanded upon my work leading the Buckeye R.E.A.C.H. program in the Office of Student Life’s Department of Social Change at the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility, a program that connects Ohio State students with incarcerated young men for a mentorship-based, mutually, developmental experience for all involved.

Implementing this program this summer and fall has changed me in several ways. The first being a change in focus from the incarcerated population to populations of vulnerable youth. I previously spent so much of my time attempting to connect currently incarcerated young people to the resources and opportunities they need to develop, I lost the time I was spending on prevention of vulnerable populations from falling into the same traps. I saw firsthand how important it was to address community concerns early; prevention is the best solution to massive issues like incarceration. I am now dedicated to using more of my time to work with vulnerable youth and address the system affecting youth, which is leading to incarceration. Additionally, this project further supported the idea that young people need long-term contact to connect and be comfortable in a mentorship relationship. Working with youth is not just a scheduled event, but involves building a life-long relationship with each individual young person––something my patience and ignorance had previously failed to convince me.

A variety of factors and personal experiences have lent themselves to these changes. First, almost all the young people in the program needed to be transported to the meeting location. Some young people lived outside city limits or in far-flung areas of the city. It took hours of volunteers time to transport the young people to our program and affiliated events. However, this experience allowed me hours of personal time and occasionally even one-on-one time in the car that provided a backbone for our mentorship relationship that was undeniable. The car was where I could check in with the youth and where they were often their most open. Stories and perspectives shared with me were sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, and sometimes traumatic––but they were all important for understanding that young person. I could get to know several of the young people on a more intimate level that I would not have if we just met during the confines of the program.

Watching the growth of the youth over the course of the program also led me to a change in perspective. My work with Buckeye R.E.A.C.H. meant I was in front of the incarcerated youth for about 4 hours every other weekend. This program allowed me to spend hours working with young people every week with extended face-time. I got to know many of the families of the young people and some of the young people asked to connect on social media and proceeded to post positively about the program or about their time with the adult mentors. One young man, for example, wrote on Facebook that I am one of the greatest teachers he’s had in his life. My name was just below his mother and father. It was a profoundly emotional moment where I realized my potential impact as a disruptor of circumstances and supporter of young people. This young man who wrote the post was about to graduate from an alternative high school and was about the age of many of the young men I work with the Buckeye R.E.A.C.H. program. I realized my efforts, if better focused on preventative measures, would have a greater effect.

The young people I worked with this summer are life-long mentees. Although we began in the summer, there has been no end date to our work. Although stressful for STEP timelines, I realized recently this organic continuity is necessary and perhaps the most impactful for the success of the mentee. How do you end a friendship with no motivation to end the friendship besides that programming is complete? If the program is administered correctly, it is impossible for both parties and that relationship will continue and that young person will receive the benefits of a mentor for years to come. That is how the world works for our most successful individuals, I believe it should work the same for those cast out and downtrodden by our society. Often, we are afraid to form true relationships with people that are different from us, but it is going beyond politeness and truly getting to know someone else that is powerful. I have gained so many perspectives and learned so much about others, myself, and the world through taking genuine time for people. Perhaps this is one for the greatest lessons I have taken away from this project.

I am so grateful to have been able to be a part of the STEP program and for the opportunities, it has given me that have shaped my academic, professional and personal path. Academically, I have a better understanding of program management and of the issues facing communities of color. I am a double major in Public Affairs focusing on community management and African-American and African Studies focusing on social issues. I have felt more confident in my coursework as I now have a firsthand understanding of a lot of the concepts discussed in class. Furthermore, my professional path has been altered. Formerly, I wanted to work with incarcerated juveniles doing programming work inside the facilities. Now, however, I feel I am called to work with middle school-aged young people. This age group is the range for when we tend to “lose” kids to gangs, violence, incarceration, miseducation, and other systemic factors. By disrupting along that age demographic, we are targeting young people before a critical window where their socialization, environment, support system, and personal development collide to entrench young people in bad habits and behaviors. Once anchored with young teens and pre-teens, the programming can expand to cover younger and older demographics. Ultimately, as made clear by this project, long-term strategies work best. Finally, I was changed as a person through my involvement with this project. I believe there are spectrums and degrees to everything in life. Although I felt I understood the people I was working with, I reached a deeper level of connection to individuals and the Columbus community. I feel more compassionate, open-minded, and dedicated to this city and its people. This opportunity has been unlike any I have ever been a part of, and I am so thankful to STEP for allowing me to experience it.

STEP Reflection: A Healthier Community

Molly Kern

For my STEP project I volunteered at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. I also started a food blog, buckeye_foodies, on Instagram with my friend Navi Kaur that documented local Columbus businesses and restaurants. We also documented healthier ways of eating.

Over the course of my project, my views on the way our community evolves around food was changed due to my volunteering with the food bank. I was already aware of some of the problems and challenges faced in communities relating to food due to a previous Buck-I-Serv trip I participated in. But it was more meaningful to be working in the community that I live in, and to be able to see the impact what I was helping with would have on the community. I only volunteered for a short amount of time, but I realized that the foodbank relies on its volunteers to help provide food to those in need.

One activity that led to the transformation of my project was being able to eat at local Columbus restaurants and shop for groceries here in Columbus. One of the things I learned was that it is much more expensive to shop for healthy foods, or to find restaurants that provide local or healthy food. Many families in the Columbus area do not have the means to spend hundreds of dollars on groceries that will last a week or two, while I spent close to $100 on groceries just for myself for two weeks. It is easier and cheaper for families to eat at fast food restaurants or buy cheap, unhealthy foods.

Volunteering at the food bank also provided me with experiences that led to the project being transformational. I was able to see firsthand how the donations sent in are taken care of and packaged to be sent out to the community. I was able to see that the donations are just not accepted no matter what, but checked to make sure that the product was acceptable and not damaged. The volunteers wanted to make sure that the community members were receiving acceptable items, not just someone’s leftovers or garbage. Being able to see how dedicated the workers and long term volunteers were to the food bank was also inspiring to see, and how much they gave back to the community when they did not necessarily have to.

Volunteering at the food bank also transformed the way I saw what types of food were donated. While the food has to be nonperishable, that often means it is very processed or not the healthiest option. I was able to see that there are not a lot of options for fresh, healthy foods for low income members of the community. They are left with the donations from the food bank, which are a great help, but it is hard to introduce healthy ways of eating when they do not have the means.

My experience was significant because it helped me confirm my passion for finding ways to improve the food in our community. Being an engineer in the agriculture department and planning on having a career in the food business helped me to appreciate how important it is to find easier ways for members of low income communities to have access to healthy food, not just fast food. I hope to have a career that will allow me to focus on making changes that lead to a future where everyone has access to healthy and renewable ways of eating. I was able to see that I am pursuing something that I am passionate about, and want to continue working towards my career.

Senya, Ghana: The Akumanyi Foundation in collaboration with Buck-I-SERV

 

I was one of 12 participants on a two-week Buck-I-SERV trip abroad to Ghana this summer. While in Ghana, I stayed in a volunteer house and with me were my peers and some staff from The Akumanyi Foundation. The main Akumanyi project that we were learning about and serving was at a children’s home and at a school. On a typical weekday, we would get up early in the mornings and go to Becky’s Home, a home to 55 orphaned and vulnerable youth. In the morning we would help the Madames of the home to get the children up and ready for school. We did everything from helping them shower and brush their teeth to helping them get breakfast served before the school bus came. The school has 400+ students, 55 of which are children from Becky’s Home. We would then go to the school and help the local teachers in the classrooms. By this time in the school year, the children were taking their end-of-term examinations. As volunteers, we helped to proctor and grade exams as well as play with the children in the schoolyard. After school, we would go back to the Home and spend the evenings with the children. In our down time, we explored Ghana in various activities such as walking around cultural markets, eating Ghanaian food (of course!), going on a canopy walk, and touring historical landmarks.

My family does not travel often and I had never been out of the country before going abroad on this trip. I remember feeling full of excitement and a little nervousness before the trip to be meeting new people and leaving the country for a couple weeks. Prior to departure, as a group, we had several pre-departure meetings. There we were informed about certain cultural norms, we would have open discussions amongst each other about various social justice issues, and we would practice Twi, the native language of the people in the region of Ghana that we were to be staying in. No matter how many pre-departure meetings we could’ve had, nothing could have truly prepared me for what I was about to experience once I had actually arrive in Ghana.

I began the trip with a very open mind and I was looking forward to trying new things and really putting myself out there. I wanted to bring a positive mindset with me and be open to experience. The group that I stayed with in Ghana was simply amazing. 12 extremely different individuals, yet somehow we all have a similar spark in our hearts and minds that brought us together on this journey. I can easily say that every single participant that was on the trip with me in Ghana truly made an impact on me and my personal experience in Ghana as well as making instrumental contributions to the group dynamic and discussions.

The generation that I have grown up in is unique; as a child I played “school” with my siblings, as an adolescent technology became more and more accessible to me and I would make home-videos with my sister and friends, as a teenager I could not wait to get a cell phone and check Facebook online after school. Now, as a 20 year old, I feel sad when I hear about children as young as 4 years old getting things like I-pads for Christmas. It is so easy to get caught up in the care-free millennial lifestyle here in America; worrying about upgrading to the latest iPhone, planning your next Sunday brunch with your friends, or taking a trip to the mall to buy an dress that you will wear one time. Things here sometimes seem so stressful in the moment.

Suddenly, all these things at home in the United States became irrelevant. Being immersed into the lifestyle of a third-world country was extremely different and mind altering. The electricity worked when it wanted to. Running water was not a “thing”. Hot showers were not either. Some of the children in the Home would be wearing the same dirty clothes for a few days. So would the Madames. The school teachers had few books to use for teaching the children and most of the books were in bad condition. The road infrastructure is so bad that a car ride could last maybe 1 or maybe 3 hours. We would just get there when we got there because it was “Ghana time”. I could not wrap my mind around the fact that I was only in Ghana for two weeks. Two weeks and I can go home and take a nice hot shower- or maybe a bath! And then I can get in my car and take a quick car ride to the book store. Maybe grab a coffee on the way. Meanwhile, the people of Ghana would go on because this was the lifestyle that they are accustomed to. It made me feel as if I have lived my whole life in a bubble.

Going to Ghana was two of the best weeks of my life. I am still awestruck every day when I think about the people and places that I saw.

Senya. I stayed in a small volunteer home in Senya, Ghana. Becky’s Children’s Home and the School were located here as well. The town of Senya is very tiny, positioned right on the central coast of Ghana. One morning, I was able to walk from the volunteer house, through Senya, to the edge of the coast in about 20 minutes. All of the buildings had character. Most were built of stone or mud or a combination of these. What looked like little shacks lined the edges of the towns. These “shacks” were home-owned and operated shops and homes. It seemed that in the towns and cities people were everywhere living right next to each other. Ghana is very communal, neighbors and friends and family alike all look out for each other. To Americans, this would look extremely claustrophobic, unsanitary, and as an invasion of privacy. But I think as Americans, we are missing out on the sense of community that Ghanaians share. One of the last days in Senya, I walked to town alone with one other girl from my trip to find some bread to buy. A man on the street was very friendly to us and he went out of his way to walk us to where we should buy the bread from. I should mention that this man was walking towards us as we were walking into town. He literally turned around and took the time to be friendly to us and to help us find a bread shop. This is one of dozens of friendly interactions that took place in Ghana.

The Children. The children were the happiest children I have every met in my entire life. Sometimes I lay in bed at night and wonder what they are up to and how school has been going. When I close my eyes I can picture their smiling faces and I can hear their laughter echoing. I would look forward to seeing them every day. The children who lived in the Home all had different backgrounds. Some of them had parents that unfortunately were deceased, others had parents alive that could not take care of them. Some of the children in the home were siblings. Some of the children were rescued from bad home lives or from being trafficked into dangerous futures. No matter what background these children came from, all 55 of them in the home were bright and brilliant in their own way. They all acted as a family and looked out for one another. They even looked out for us volunteers. One of the oldest boys in the home killed a deadly scorpion one night that could have caused fatal harm to one of us volunteers or to one of the children in the home. The children inspired me to find more happiness in the every day. Before the trip, I was expecting that I would help impact the children in a positive way by being able to spend time with them. I was hoping that they would leave a lasting impression on me as well. And that was an understatement. The children of Becky’s Home have left a remarkable impact on me. Just thinking heir kindness and spirit fills my heart.

The School. The infrastructure of the school is weak. The classrooms are in an open rectangular shape and the school is very noisy. I was trying to grade exams and I almost couldn’t think because there were so many distractions around me. However, the children are eager to learn. The school served 400+ kids, including the 55 from the Home. It was extremely easy to see that the children from the Home were definitely at the top of their classes. The teachers were grateful for our help. Although the help I provided in the classroom is not something sustainable, I think I helped to take a little bit of a load off of the level 3 teacher, Mary, that I was working with. The student to teacher ratio is so inadequate. This take s a toll on the teacher, who becomes exhausted, and a toll on the students, who can slowly slip through the cracks. Something more sustainable I did contribute toward was the building of a new school. A portion of my programming funds are contributing the construction of a new school, one in which should be a more conductive learning environment for the children. Seeing the inadequacies in the school system in Ghana really made me reflect on inadequacies on the American schooling system as well.

I have always had a passion for education. For years I wanted to become a teacher, and this trip was so meaningful to me to be able to spend time with the children and to be able to serve in the school. I was able to draw many contrasting thoughts and comparisons between the infrastructure of Ghana’s education system and that of the United States. In terms of my future, I am actually in the process of officially adding a minor in Education to my current 5-year Human Resources Master BSBA degree program. Going on this trip has really reignited the passion that I have for children and education.

I will never forget the faces and places that I have seen in Ghana. This country is full of the most charismatic and genuine people. I hope to return there again one day. I am forever grateful for the experience that STEP, The Akumanyi Foundation, and Buck-I-SERV has helped me to have.

Parks Through the Viewfinder

Geauga County Park Department manages approximately 10,000 acres of open parks, preserves, and soon-to-be parks. Every year, they attract thousands and thousands of visitors, especially during the summer season. This summer, I was given the opportunity through STEP to volunteer alongside the department and work to capture all the attention the 19 parks received over the summer through photography.

The Geauga Park Department mission is “to preserve, conserve and protect the natural features of Geauga County and to provide outdoor recreational experiences to our residents of every age, every ability and at all times of the year.” While I don’t believe I was disrespectful to nature in any way before this project, I’ve certainly become more aware of my actions to help preserve nature. Preserving parks or other natural areas goes beyond leaving trash or infringing on a habitat; it is about holding others to maintaining a higher respect for the environment as well as recognizing non-immediate effects caused by humans and to strive to resolve them. As I spent time in the woods, my appreciation of the wilderness significantly grew. With this, my concern for the environment grew as well. I have taken better efforts on reducing my carbon footprint and informing my friends and family what effects humans are causing in our environment.

Being within the parks and being able to appreciate the beauty of nature first hand allowed my respect for sustainability to grow. It was rather eye-opening to experience being in a park all day, to go home and read news stories about forest fires, rising sea levels, and other disasters caused directly by man-made climate change. Reflecting on my project, I would argue if more people took the time to go out and spend some time within their town’s park system, they would become more insightful of climate change and the issues we are causing to our environment around us. Even though I was already aware of the changes going on, I was still able to learn more about the issue at hand. I believe that those who have more conservative views on climate change could be persuaded by simply spending more time outdoors.

Another opportunity I had provided from my project was my involvement in my home community. Since being away at school, my leadership in my hometown had become almost nonexistent. My STEP project allowed me to set aside my time and efforts each week to become involved in my community and improve upon my leadership skills.  During my project, I was able to make connections with a diverse group of others and being able to establish myself as a role model citizen. These opportunities are invaluable to my future endeavors because both can only be improved through experiences.

For my project, I was required to go to events to take pictures of people enjoying the parks. While I was there, I was able to meet countless people and get to know others in my community. The Geauga Parks system is visited by people of all ages and backgrounds. Through my volunteer work, I was able to get to know a diverse group of people from all attendees. People shared their stories with me and what having an incredible park system meant to them. We were able to bond over our love of being outdoors and our beliefs of preserving the environment. Many senior citizens gave me insightful advice for my life to come ahead.

These opportunities provided by my STEP project will benefit me in my personal and professional life to come. Becoming more appreciative of nature will affect my choices I make as I consciously consider the effects on the environment. Already, my choices have become more green-thinking by using less power or water when possible and consuming less. I firmly believe I’ll continue to heavily think green in my future. The leadership experience I have gained from this past summer contributed to my skills and has allowed me to become a better leader. I have made many new connections in my hometown and been given a ton of advice that I am looking forward to using.

 

STEP Reflection

For my STEP project I decided to further my education by enrolling in an Emergency Medical Technician course the took place over this past summer. The course consisted of three four-hour lectures and one four-hour practical skills lab each week for ten weeks, as well as ten hours of clinical experience throughout the semester. To become a certified EMT following successful completion of the class I was also required to pass both a National Registry Skills Practical and a National Registry Written Exam.

As a result of taking on this course I have learned so much, not only about life saving skills, but also the human cycle of life, general pathology, tactics for successful communication, and time management. Before this summer I often felt awkward when communicating with individuals who I did not know and would easily become overwhelmed when presented with many scattered deadlines, all requiring significant time and work. Through exstensive practice, I am now far more comfortable communicating with new people because assessing patients is one of the main skills an EMT must carry out on every call. My time management skills have also improved drastically as a result of working a full-time job throughout the duration of the seven credit hour course.

Academically, I also developed through curriculum focused on rapid diagnosis of medical and trauma issues. I have a broader understanding of many illnesses, injuries, treatments, and medications, all of which I did not know much about at the beginning of the summer. This newly gained knowledge has also helped me moving forward this semester, as many of of the classes for my major are covering similar content in greater detail. Studying the human cycle of life also brought about a profound change in my daily habits and mindset. As an adolescent and young adult I almost never thought about the aging process or my own death, but content covered in this course made me far more conscious of both. Taking care of my own physical and mental health on a daily basis has become a part of my routine that I plan to continue throughout life.

The obvious aspect of this experience that brought about significant personal change was the large amount curriculum focused on health care. Before beginning this class in June, I had been a pre-PA student for two years here at Ohio State but my only completed course that directly related to my future aspirations had been Anatomy. Struggling through challenging prerequisite courses that I had little interest in did not provided much reassurance in terms of my own career path, and leading up to this summer, I was unsure if a career in the medical field was something I was still truly passionate about. The knowledge I gained through this EMT course, in terms of pathology, diagnosis, treatment, and medication provided me with significant reassurance that a medical career is still something I strongly want to pursue. Returning to campus this fall I began the semester with a new confidence in myself as a student and future professional as a result of my summer studies.

As mentioned previously, my experience this summer also opened my eyes to the importance of maintaining one’s own physical and mental health. Most young adults live in denial of the aging process and even their own death at times, but completing clinical hours at several urgent care facilities throughout the summer provided me with evidence that both aging and death can be expedited if one does not take care of his or her body. I met many middle aged patients who had aged horribly as a result of tobacco use, unhealthy eating, a lack of physical activity, or poor personal hygiene practices. Many patients were taking multiple medications each day to combat their health issues and still choosing to live unhealthy lifestyles. Observing and interacting with these patients, firsthand, made me far more conscious of my own daily habits and resulted in me making a few changes including the regular use of sunscreen and a shift towards eating healthier foods. I also view the risky behaviors of some of my peers as far more ignorant and childish than I would have at the beginning of the summer.

As a member of the millennial generation that has grown up in the age of smart phones and social media, I am ashamed to admit that before this summer my conversation skills with individuals I did not know or had just met were lacking. This course pushed me out of my comfort zone through clinical hours at urgent care centers, ride-alongs with local fire departments, and weekly practical skill labs with paramedics I had never met. In each of these situations I was forced to strike up conversation with individuals I had just met, sometimes for hours at a time. By the end of the summer I had become far more proficient in this type of communication. Moving forward I plan to continue improving this skill, as it will help my to establish a good rapport with patients as a professional.

The personal changes mentioned above will be benefit me, not only during the rest of my undergraduate and graduate school education, but also as I mature as a member of society and a professional in the medical field. As a result of taking this course I am now better prepared to succeed in difficult classes, interactions with graduate school interviewers, and live a healthy adult life. At the beginning of the summer semester I would never have imagined how much this single class would have helped me to grow as a student,  a professional, and an individual.

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.