- My step project was becoming a Community Engagement Leader. For this role, I lead groups of my peers in volunteer activities every month and provided a reflection for each of them to look back on the ways this project was personally transformative. I spent my time building reflection worksheets, creating sign-up sheets, talking with other leaders, organizing rides, facilitating discussion, and most importantly, volunteering with the community.
- Two of the places we spent extensive time in this summer were The Miracle Garden and Stowe Mission. The Miracle Garden is a community garden aimed to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the neighborhoods in a food desert. Stowe Mission provides many services including serving a hot meal every day, dental and medical services, and an after-school tutoring session. They also hold monthly block parties to engage the community, which is where we spent a lot of our time volunteering. Growing up, I hadn’t been exposed to the type of food insecurity that many of these families face in both places we volunteered. Volunteering here and helping to lead the trips and talk with the residents really opened my eyes to the need that many people around me face. I realized how blessed I am to lead the life I do, and how lucky I am that I never had to worry about food on the table. I saw the great need in this world, and I looked for ways to alleviate some of that need in my surrounding communities. I always assumed food insecurity was too big of a problem for me to tackle but seeing the work that was done in our team this summer made it seem a lot more manageable and I realized my work is making a real difference.
- Working in the Miracle Garden with the local residents showed me how much I have to be thankful for. The Miracle Garden deals with a lot of theft and damages as people are resistant to the help we are trying to bring. While there are some residents who love the garden and want to help plant things, other residents are quick to steal the plants we just planted or vandalize the property. This initially frustrated me as I saw how hard myself and others worked in an attempt to provide fresh foods to these people and I felt as though they were unappreciative for the work. However, when I took a step back, I realized that I have no idea why they are doing these things to the garden. Perhaps they are very poor and can’t afford to wait for the crops to be harvested or worry they won’t get their share in the future. Thinking of these other explanations for people’s behavior allowed me to have a view into their lives and hardships and be more empathetic towards them and thankful for what I do have.
Another one of the key aspects that lead to the changes I saw was the interactions I had with the residents whom I met while volunteering. The families that we worked with were living in poverty, many struggling to make ends meet for a while. However, these people were so generous and joyful, living with so much happiness and love despite the circumstances they had been given. This led me to reevaluate my own life and see how I can get upset by the smallest of things. I wanted to lead a life full of love and happiness irrelevant of the external situations in my life as these people I met were. These people were so thankful for the effort we put into the Miracle Garden as well and this made me see how even the smallest steps can make the world of difference to someone else.
Finally, one specific interaction I had with a young girl while volunteering at Stowe Mission really stuck out to me and help shape my entire experience. While drawing with chalk at the monthly block party, she told me that many people in her school bully her because she likes girls and not boys. She said this causes her a lot of anxiety and depression and she feels as though no one will accept her because of how she feels. I immediately told her that I accept her, and life is so much more than the middle school hallway bullies. I was able to talk with her a lot that night and show her that there are many people just like her in the world who are struggling to figure themselves out too. In the midst of it all, it’s okay to be lonely and scared, but you are always understood, loved, and needed by someone in this world. This interaction really stood out to me as I felt it helped me empathize with her and allowed me to use my psychology background to better understand her.
- The changes that I saw over the summer in myself are invaluable to my future. I will be attending medical school next year and hope to one day be a pediatrician. As a doctor, specifically a pediatrician, I will be dealing with many children who come from a family that lives in a food insecure area. I will be dealing with children who are depressed, anxious, and trying to figure out their sexuality. Having an open mind and knowing how to address these problems is key to becoming a great doctor. Additionally, this summer, I was able to refine my listening skills and empathy for others. I have personally witnessed while shadowing doctors how empathy and especially listening mean so much to the patients. They desire to be heard and understood by their doctor, so these skills will be essential to continue refining.