Service Learning and Community Service
Over this past Summer, I volunteered in Cincinnati with urban youth whose families were struggling with homelessness and poverty. I split time between two organizations: UpSpring and Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. Both organizations specialize in providing support and resources to families and children in Cincinnati who are struggling with poverty and homelessness.
While working with the kids over the Summer, I gained a huge new perspective on life. I have grown up in middle-class suburbs my whole life, almost in a perfect bubble. Talking to these kids about their experiences and daily lives really opened my eyes as to how lucky and privileged I have been my whole life. Learning how the world woks outside the bubble I had been living in is extremely valuable as to how I live the rest of my life. It was incredible to learn how some of the kids I worked with were able to deal with their experiences and still managed to be kids.
The reason I chose to volunteer in Cincinnati is because of the state that the city is in. Over the past few decades, Cincinnati has seen some of the worst riots and experienced drastic periods of civil disorder. Police brutality and racial profiling had a hold on the city from the late 90s into the early 2000s. The last few years, the city has experienced some very positive changes with the renovations to Over-the-Rhine and the emergence of the FC Cincinnati MLS team. There is much more for the citizens of the city to bond and connect over. However, there is still much that could be done. More than 8,000 children experience homelessness every year in Cincinnati and almost half of all children in Cincinnati live in poverty. What makes it worse is that theses kids and families are our fellow buckeyes. People who root for the Reds and Bengals and know all the words to hang on sloopy. Cincinnati sometimes gets a bad reputation, but it’s a beautiful city with amazing people who just need a little help every once in a while.
One of the largest thigs I realized over the Summer is that ignorance is bliss. When I was at Upspring, a Summer camp for children whose families are struggling with poverty, I was working with kids ages 5-11. I was amazed at how they were able to distance themselves from the reality of their living situation. When they were at camp, they were just kids; running around laughing and yelling and having a great time being kids. They were just so young and innocent to the entire situation. A part of me was jealous of them for being able to play and be happy without a care in the world. And that’s their right as kids to be innocent to what’s happening in the world around them. Childhood is supposed to be a joyful time where you don’t have to care about anything other than your favorite video game and when your bedtime is.
When working with Lighthouse Youth and Family Services, I was volunteering with kids in a runaway shelter. The Mecum house runaway shelter is a place where kids ages 10-18 can go whenever they have nowhere else to go. Whether they need to get away from abusive parents, or their parents are off doing whatever they want, and they just need a warm bed to sleep in. Almost all the kids in the shelter had dealt with some kind of abuse or traumatic experience in their life, and Mecum House was a way to escape all of that and hang out with other kids. After working with these kids for a few weeks and talking to them about their lives, I gained a lot of respect for them. They all carried themselves with such a strong sense of independence that I wouldn’t even dream of having at their age. Overall, it was eye-opening to work with kids of all ages who weren’t necessarily dealt the best hand, but who are making the best of their situation.
This project has probed invaluable to how I view the rest of my life and the people I interact with. Later in my life, I have plans to travel as much as I can and being able to be understand and have knowledge of different lifestyles and upbringings will allow me to connect with people form all over the world. This transformation has also opened me up to going out of my comfort zone. I hope to start engaging with other groups of people and learning about their way of life and the obstacles they had to overcome to get to where they are in life. In time, I plan to be living a much more meaningful lifestyle that has a positive impact on everybody I meet.
Community Service Project
As part of my STEP project, I volunteered with different organizations around Columbus. My primary focus was the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar (HOBY, for short) in which I designed the entire program booklet and t-shirts for the seminar. In doing this, I learned a lot about how to use the design systems of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Likewise, I transported patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, interacting often with the kids at the hospital.
My award-winning cover design for HOBY’s program booklet
A picture of my group at HOBY
Before my STEP Project began, I was struggling to decide where I wanted to go after college – my options were essentially split between higher education/student affairs (HESA), teaching, psychology, non-profit work, and medicine. In my project, I greatly narrowed down these options, and now know that I would like to pursue a career more towards the area of HESA and Psychology. More than likely I will still like to work with non-profits, however, I do not wish to make a career out of this. Likewise, the medical field will always be fascinating, but it is not for me. I am a very social individual and want the main part of my career to be communicating with people, which is exactly what I’ll get out of HESA and Psychology.
My STEP Project also opened me up to new talents I didn’t know I really had. As part of my involvement with HOBY, I worked a lot with Adobe programs like Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. Most of what I did with these programs was self-taught, but I also watched a lot of YouTube videos and read articles explaining different features of these programs. I’ve always enjoyed photography and design, but never fully embraced those as talents that I have, and now with these new-found skills, I may be able to do so.
Being at Nationwide Children’s Hospital this summer put me in contact with a wide variety of people each with their own story to tell. From kids on the 11th and 12th Floors battling cancer and other similar diseases, to families of those getting transplants, to other kids simply getting their tonsils removed. I find everyone’s story unique and fascinating, and hearing these different stories was eye-opening for sure. After hearing from those already in the field, such as nurses, doctors, and other medical staff, it became apparent to me that this work, though inspiring, is not the best fit for me.
As opposed to this, at HOBY, I heard a lot of students’ goals and aspirations for their own future as well as their communities. Hearing the hopes of these young individuals is what inspires me greatly to make a difference in my own community, and so on. For this reason, the career route of HESA was much more appealing to me, and I could see myself fitting easily into this role. As my first year leading a group of my own, I truly enjoyed the connections I made with the students within my group, and in my future career, I would enjoy having a similar leadership role, such as a hall director, honors liaisons, or even a wellness coach.
Even though this was not a planned part of my STEP experience, from staying in Columbus this summer I met someone who shared their experiences with prior mental health difficulties. Psychology is another one of my potential career fields and meeting someone who I could talk to directly about their experiences with mental health was really eye-opening. Besides depression and anxiety, which are some of the most well-known, I learned through discussion and research of my own about other mental health issues like personality disorders. I also learned about what language is best to be used in particular circumstances. Likewise, I learned how mental health can affect different people based on their identities. These interactions and subsequent learning reassured my passion for psychology and mental health education.
As someone who severely needed a sense of direction after their sophomore year, my STEP project gave me much needed clarity. I can now for certain cross many “options” off my list of possible careers, and have successfully narrowed down to two specific interests. Now, my academic plan for the next two years is much more solidified, and I am much more excited to take the classes that I am in because I know they will be benefitting my future career. With my last two years, I can focus not on what I could possibly want to do, but what I need to do to get me there.