STEP Reflection

Luke Kruzel

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.