I was once told that you never truly know something until you can teach it to someone else. With this mentality, I set out to complete two different service projects but from two different perspectives, participant and leader. My goal was to go on a Buck-I-SERV in the spring as a participant to learn what the program was about and learn from my leaders so that I was able to come back in the summer as a trip leader and provide an amazing experience for other participants. I am lucky that I was able to achieve my goal and learn a lot from the experiences I had.
A more detailed overview of each of my trips is as follows. On my first trip we were all hands-on deck when we went to Lafayette, Louisiana to work with the local Habitat For Humanities (H4H) group to help finish and work on houses that community members will eventually live in. On this trip I was able to gain a lot of real world skills that I could use when fixing my own house but I think the more valuable information was the things we learned about the program and the effect it has on the lives of the new residents.
My second trip was less physical labor and was focused on combating homelessness of women and children in the Atlanta, Georgia area through a shelter called Solomon’s Temple. Our day to day task primarily focused on playing with the children but we also helped serve food every day, helped with evening activities, and other miscellaneous tasks that needed to be done, this is how I got poison ivy. The most impactful part of this trip was the human interactions as it gives us a chance to not care about ourselves but someone else. It was also interesting to hear the stories, each being radically different, yet they end up in the same place where they can rebuild from.
However, on both trips we were able to do and try new things that I have never done before which help create so many lasting memories, but these were also the times where we bounded as a group and became friends.
To understand how my views and assumptions have changed based on these trips, we should discuss what my perceptions were before my trips again we will consider both trips separate.
Regarding my first trip, I came in knowing that we will be working with Habitat for Humanity and that we would be building houses but beyond that I did not know much about the program or the people we will be serving. A lot of thoughts flooded my mind once we were driving to our location as we were staying in a previously built habitat house. I thought the house we will be staying at wouldn’t be that nice and that the surrounding areas would be run down and struggling. Much to my surprise the house was much better than I expected and the area where we were was not bad but there was definitely places that we passed that were struggling. Regarding the program, I was unfamiliar with the process but talking to Brandi, one of the leads at this chapter location, I learned that there is a lot that goes into making the house and how much work the new homeowner puts in to the process. You may wonder how my perceptions changed, and the simple answer is communication and conversations.
Now you understand my perceptions going into my first trip, which was my first Buck-I-Serv and this could have affected my overall perception, but there were some key moments during this trip that I will cherish forever and have made a lasting impact. One of the first things that comes to mind is the level of group bonding that we were able to achieve only in one week and this could be attributed to a variety of things but I think the most notable one was our game nights. It showed me that even though we were sixteen different people who we have never met before, we were able to mend so well together which helped us work a lot better during our service parts and achieve that common goal of finishing a house. Another notable aspect of the trip was everyone willingness to be actively engaged. I have been on other trips where you don’t have everyone willing to do whatever is asked. On this trip it was different, even if someone didn’t know how to do something or it wasn’t the most desirable job, they were putting their best effort into it. The final thing that contributed to my perceptions changing were the interactions with the different people of my group and the organization. Some of the notable interactions that I had were, as I mentioned before, Brandi who was so willing to share about the program, the logistics that go behind it, and how she became about helping the program and her rational behind her actions. It really put the program and cause into perspective which was something I was lacking coming into the trip. Another valuable interaction I had was with my leader of my trip. As I was planning on leading a trip in the summer, and being in the unique situation where I had all my leader training before my spring trip, I was able to talk to my leader on the two-hour car ride about the details of being a leader. This gave me valuable insight and a point of contact when it was time for me to plan my trip. We talked about things that worked, didn’t work, and things that she suggested for when I be a leader. The theme of our discussion was that you can plan out the whole trip but that is not what makes it memorable. Having a dynamic trip where you plan as you go makes the whole experience more personal and more memorable for the participants in your group.
On my second trip, there were more preconceived notions about the people I would be working with because of the way homeless people are portrayed in society. They are constantly seen as dirty, beggars, not self-sufficient, etc.… and this was mentality that I went into it with. I was hopeful that my previous trip and knowing the details would help get rid of these notions but unfortunately, I was still hesitant going into this trip. I thought that since we would be staying in a shelter for homeless woman and children it would also be dirty, meals would be very simple, and the people would be struggling more than they were. Again, upon arrival all of these notions were mitigated because of the friendly and welcoming environment that we were greeted with. The staff was very appreciative of our help and I think this initial interaction set the tone for the remainder of the trip. Most of the changes that I saw, not only for myself but also the residents, came about from the individual interactions. The more notable ones are the interaction was with Anaya. She was fourteen years old but she was the oldest child there by a few years. Due to this and her upbringing, she grew up real fast and secluded herself from the rest of the group, rarely interacting with the other kids. When we came, it took only a day before she warmed up to us, and us being closer in age to her, she was able to take a minute and be a kid again. This showed me that we should value our time as a kid as the fun we have. There will always be work and things to do but there is not always time to have fun and be a kid. Another interaction was with a girl who was too shy to sing, but this concept can be applied to all the kids. In the beginning of the week, Madison, was too afraid to sing in front of everyone but throughout the week we kept reinforcing her with positive affirmations and by the end of the week she sang in front of a bunch of people at karaoke night. Sometimes we forget to give people positive affirmations which you can see can go a long way. We forget that people go through so much and we can be the small ray of sunshine in their day. This is something I am going to try and do more often and more consciously, give positive affirmations in hopes that it can be the start of something of amazing, and the cost to me is only a few seconds.
Change is inevitable, but sometimes you get to choose how things change. This is where I think STEP but also in my case, and Buck-I-Serv are such great platforms for ensuing change in an individual. The most prominent form of change that I think these programs gravitate towards are personal change, perhaps because of the service aspect that I decided to pursue but either way you utilize these assets change will occur. I not only experienced personal change but I also had a confirmation in my professional field of middle childhood education that I think is invaluable.
In regard to why my personal change matters, it matters because it dictates how you interact with the world but more specifically the people in it. I am referencing more my experiences from my second trip but there will always be snippets I can take from both. Before we dive into my personal change, take a moment and imagine how you interact with a stranger. Now imagine how you interact with a homeless person. My guess is that you act more negatively to the homeless person. The reason we feel so afraid is that we don’t know the person but even they have a story worth sharing but also listening to. This is where my personal change matters. It shows that I care for the homeless but I could be doing more to help them, even if it is to lend them ear to talk to. I learned this from the stories I heard while at the shelter. It challenged me to not view a person by their situation but view the situation from the person. To me this means not to view a person as a homeless person as this puts a lot of negative stigma behind them, but rather view them as a person without a home. The second way is more inspiring and shows that even though they may be down on their luck, there will be a chance to come back, unlike the former.
I will start challenging myself to be more adventurous and take risks while meeting new people because sometimes the stories and experiences you will have will outweigh the risks. It’s also super simple as a conversation just starts with a “Hello”.
Regarding confirming my career path, middle childhood education, I saw and heard what happens to the children at school but also away from school. As a teacher I want to be able to help each kid see their potential because during my second trip, we kept giving each kid positive affirmations and we could see their demeanor change and they were more willing to try new things and be themselves. The best example of this was Madison, one of the children in the shelter, sang but thought she wasn’t good so she didn’t sing in front of people. We as a group collectively kept saying she was great and later in the week she sang in front of a bunch of people at karaoke night.
Since kids are so impressionable and teaching provides a platform to directly interact with them, I want to the well-being of the child to take precedent and then the education aspect of school will follow. Therefore I only see the opportunity to build on the core values I have as a person but also as an educator, and these experiences help me become a more holistic and understanding mentor, friend, and educator.