Archive for the student projects Category

Postcards From My Country

Posted in student projects with tags , , , on September 8, 2011 by JennaBrager

The 2011 Postcards from my Country journal is available to read online! A collaboration between UMD students in the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House and students at Northwestern High School, the journal showcases poetry about the experience of immigrating to the United States and other topics.


Mentoring with MMYC

Posted in Community Partners, student projects with tags , , , on April 11, 2011 by JennaBrager

The most recent and profound mentoring experience I have had was at the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center in Riverdale, Maryland. A friend of mine informed me of the opportunity to work with high school students who are applying to college. I was asked to share my story with the students at MMYC before the workshop. I conveyed to them that even with dismal financial circumstances, it is possible to go to college without enormous student loans looming after graduation. I explained that as a senior in high school, I faced several obstacles. First of all, my guidance counselor told me I would not be accepted by University of Maryland because SAT scores were not high enough. After raising my scores, I applied to the University and was accepted a few months later. The next obstacle was how to pay for college. By late spring, I had applied for a total of sixty scholarships. At the awards ceremony at the end of the school year, I received only four scholarships. However, those four financed about ninety percent of my tuition. I hoped the group of students would be inspired by my story and hopefully follow on the same path.

During the workshop, I was grouped with two young ladies who would soon finish a GED program with MMYC. Immediately, I was struck by their determination to succeed. After about an hour of talking with them, I learned that both girls became mothers at only sixteen and twenty. They spoke about the struggles of raising a child while trying to complete an education and the financial strain they felt to provide for their children. My heart was heavy when I heard their stories, especially because my own sister is just sixteen. However, their dedication and attitude inspired me in a new way. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever had the opportunity to talk and be listened to. I felt a lot of compassion for these girls and wanted to guide them to their goals.

Throughout the course of the workshop, I worked with them to write personal essays for a local scholarship to a two year vocational school of their choosing. The two girls were on two completely different career paths. One wanted to be a social worker after working as an assistant in the local Department of Social Services office. She was inspired to help the local hispanic community due to the help she received from community organizations after her daughter was born. The other student wanted to become a sonogram technician because of a particularly helpful and inspiring nurse she met during her pregnancy. She explained being a sonogram technician makes people happy by revealing what gender their child will be. I was impressed with the way the girls had been inspired to pursue careers based on those who helped them during perhaps the most difficult chapter of their lives. I started thinking about the idea that we are driven to certain things because of our experiences with people who we see as role models. I hoped that they would not soon forget their experiences in this workshop. By the end of the night, they both thanked me profusely and hugged me goodbye.

This experience was one of the best of my entire life. I often think about the students I met and hope that they find their way. The idea that I could help these students was incredibly fulfilling. Additionally, inspiring young women, especially those who have faced adversity, is something I am interested in pursuing in the future.
Grace Toulotte, Class of 2011,  Studio Art

Service: A two way street

Posted in student projects with tags , , , , on March 2, 2011 by JennaBrager
During the summer of 2010, I traveled to the slums of Mexico City for a faith-based service trip. I worked within a team of three Americans for seven weeks, living with a host family in the slums of Las Lomas de San Isidro on the city’s outskirts. We partnered with a nonprofit to teach English in the schools, organize an Olympic-style tournament for the kids and advertise community programs, such as water purification centers. I had the opportunity to meet many religious and political leaders within the slum community and to assimilate into my host family’s daily life.
Throughout the summer, I found that many of my service activities were focused on building relationships, and the interactions did not always provide tangible results. This radically changed my idea of what service meant and how I could personally grow from such experiences. Adjusting to a new culture in a healthy way was closely tied to my willingness to listen and learn. I was so enthusiastic and ready to discover more about the culture, the community, the economic conditions and even the history of Mexico. I was humbled by the generosity exhibited by my host family and was forced to develop the foreign skill of finding happiness in simplicity. Detachment from technology allowed me to more completely focus on my surroundings and my new relationships.
I went to Mexico because I have closely followed the immigration debate and have even traveled to the Texas-Mexico border on an Alternative Break trip to hear viewpoints from the front lines. A personal connection not only serves as a mechanism for compassion but as a way to eliminate apathy and stay connected to the humanity of a social issue. We Americans abstractly hear about our position of privilege, yet we often lack an experiential basis of comparison. I wanted to see what the world was like outside of the socioeconomic wealth and apparent privilege of America. In addition, I am very interested in issues of environmental justice, as many natural-resource management problems disproportionately affect those with less money and societal leverage.
I strongly believe in the importance of actively forming cross-cultural relationships and seeing new viewpoints. You do not have to go to Mexico or another country to have this type of experience. In a community service context, you can specifically focus your time, talents and resources in a way that takes you outside your social comfort zone. For you, that might mean spending time with homeless people in Washington and choosing to focus on their humanity rather than their economic status. It may mean driving to Langley Park, volunteering at an immigrant day-care center such as CentroNia and hearing about the kids’ lives and unique challenges. It may mean getting a group of friends together to make cookies for the cleaning staff on your dorm floor. However we decide to act, we must keep in mind the reciprocal nature of community service and how much other people can teach us through their views and life experiences.
Whitney Beck is a junior environmental science and policy major. She can be reached at wbeck1990 at gmail dot com. This column was originally submitted to the Leadership & Community Service-Learning Office’s Spirit of Service essay contest in December.

Donate Blood

Posted in student projects, Why we serve with tags , , , , on March 1, 2011 by JennaBrager

Every year, my high school hosted an American Red Cross blood drive for the faculty and eligible students. My junior year, I just made the birthday cutoff and was handed a registration card to schedule my appointment. I looked at it and froze.

Sure, I liked the whole idea behind giving blood and saving lives, but, like many people, I was intimidated by the thought of a needle in my arm.

I chickened out and let my mom give me the excuse that I shouldn’t give blood, because I was too close to the minimum weight. Instead of donating, I worked the “snack table,” handing out juice and cookies (and maybe consuming some as well). I noticed that no one who came to me for their post-donation snack looked like they were about to faint or vomit, which I took to be good signs.

I promised myself that I would be brave enough to donate the next year.

I did donate then, in a process that was a lot less scary than I thought it would be. There was a quick pinch of the needle in my arm, but then I didn’t even feel it. I’ve been a faithful donor ever since, trying to schedule donation appointments every 56 days- the time required between each donation so the body can fully replenish the pint of blood donated.

One day, while I was waiting to donate in a church basement, or community center, or fire station (The locations all kind of run together after a while.), I heard a woman say she has given blood every 56 days since she was 17, with a few exceptions for sicknesses. She was 72 years old.

Let’s do some quick math. Donors can give blood six times per year. So in the approximately 55 years the woman has been an active blood donor, she has donated about 330 times. One blood donation can save up to three lives. So this one woman has saved almost 1,000 lives.

This sounds like a lot, and it is, but more than 38,000 donations are needed every day, according to the American Red Cross. Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. A car accident victim alone may need as many as 100 pints.

Imagine if every potential blood donor followed the example of the woman I met. It would end blood shortages and save millions of lives.

Eligible donors must be healthy and weigh at least 110 pounds. Needle apprehension does not have to stop you from helping others. The Red Cross recommends moral support and distractions, like listening to music, for those who are needle shy.

But people who feel faint at the sight of needles or are ineligible to give blood can volunteer to help advertise or run blood drives, so there are many ways to get involved in this life-saving process.

One reason I got involved with the campus’ American Red Cross Club is to increase the number of blood donors and volunteers at our many drives throughout the year.

Donation is easy and only takes about an hour from registration to refreshments. Unlike other types of donations, it doesn’t involve buying anything, making it perfect for struggling college students. If something so simple can save so many lives, why aren’t more people donating?

Most of us will never get the opportunity to save someone from the path of a speeding Metro train or rescue someone from drowning in the Chesapeake Bay, but we all have the potential to be heroes to those in need of our life-saving blood donations.

— Michaelle Bond

University of Maryland Junior

American Red Cross Club Public Relations Officer

Education and poverty

Posted in student projects, Why we serve with tags , , , , on February 22, 2011 by JennaBrager

In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, I was selected to participate in a very competitive leadership program, The Lazarus Leadership Fellows Program. To participate in this program, I needed to identify problems that affect my community. The issue I choose to work on is one that bothers me very much. That is the small percentage of Latinos graduating from high school and going on to pursue higher education. The tiny number of Latino students pursuing higher education is a problem of national concern as Latinos are the fastest growing minority in the United States.

In the second part of the project, I had to come up with some program or camp that will help to address this issue.  The only requirement was that I spend at least 200 hours in the planning and making of my project. I decided to do some motivational and informational sessions for Latinos students to motivate them go to college.  I thought if I could get prominent Latinos from the metropolitan area who struggled growing up but still succeed in their careers to come and speak to the students, the young people would be motivated. Then, after building their confidence, I would introduce them to the college process, showing them step by step what they have to do in order to go to college. I would show them how to get financial aid and scholarships and alternative ways to pursue higher education depending on their legal status.  The last part of my program involve taking them to college visits in the area and actually having them talk to college admissions counselor, attending a class, showing them a dorm room and having them see that college has a lot more to offer than just a great education. Everything was going to be provided by me and the only thing that was required was that every participant would have to write journal entries from the beginning to the end of the program so I could see if they had changed.

A week before the program started, everything was ready. The venue was reserved, speakers were lined up by theme, reservation for the college visits were made, refreshments were ready but I had one problem; nobody contacted me to participate. I did everything I could to spread the word. I put the message out on Facebook and other networks like BCC net.  I recorded the announcement in the school recording machine and programmed it to call the students houses. I put flyers up everywhere. But nobody called, and nobody contacted me. I had to cancel the speakers and everything else. And that was the end of my program.

I deeply believe that education can make a difference in anyone’s life. Education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty and move fight injustice in this society. I think education is the best tool to fight poverty because when people have a better education, they are able to get better jobs, support themselves as well as their families and are less likely to depend on the government for their basic needs. Educated generations are more likely to educated younger generations. Education is the only way to form an equal and global community for everyone. Finally, I realized that the educational problems of the Latino community are deeper than I had understood. This is a mystery that I want to solve.

–Sharon Perez Ferreras, UMD Freshman


Editors note:  After reading this submission, think about what makes a service project successful and what might cause it to be unsuccessful.  Even negative experiences represent potential for growth and learning!

Benefits of Service

Posted in student projects, Why we serve with tags , , , , on February 21, 2011 by JennaBrager

It’s three days before the event. My Greek friends are storing 500 pounds of peanut butter and jelly, 700 plastic knives, 300 paper hats, 1,800 plastic gloves, 100 tablecloths and no tables. Hundreds of people have responded that they will be attending on Facebook, and about 20 homeless shelters are expecting anywhere from 100 to 1,000 peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches in three days. And I have no tables. The Campus Reservations Office has approved McKeldin Mall, and it even got me a connection to reserve hand-washing stations for the day. But I have no tables. A speaker is coming from the National Coalition for the Homeless to talk to the 300 to 400 students I’m expecting to show up. But I have no tables. This is the first event hosted by my new student group, one with ambitious goals and — at the moment — dedicated members. And I need about 60 six-seater rectangular tables to be delivered to the mall by 10:30 a.m. in three days.

This was late last year, when I was coordinating Spread the Love, an event where students made peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the homeless. Luckily, it all worked out; I got the tables in the end. And so, on Oct. 23, about 400 students gathered on the mall at my 65 tables and made about 6,200 peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for local homeless shelters. But this fiasco with the tables and various other miscommunications — late letters, begged requests and terrifying phone calls — taught me how hard organizing is at this university. It also taught me how merciful, wonderful and helpful people are when they like your idea. After the event, I’d often repeat the phrase, “I push 5 percent, and the rest of the world pushes 95.” Organizing on this scale taught me two important things about people: They want to help, and they’re good by nature.

Originally, Spread the Love started as a shared idea with a few friends. We envisioned this event as one of a series hosted by our ambitious student group, The Love Movement. We wanted to begin a social movement that would involve the greater university community in large-scale philanthropic events that create a coalition of co-sponsors. This group now exists and regularly hosts events like Spread the Love. We decided that this event would be our first of the semester. I wanted the experience as a leader and an organizer, and I felt particularly attached to this idea, so I chose to be the coordinator.

But really, the most important thing I’ve learned is that action makes me feel good. Everyone should get to experience that type of organizational leadership in a philanthropic group. It was the most satisfying thing I’ve done as an activist or as someone who considers himself a good person. I think this has been a defining moment for me, and I feel great about myself now. And of course, the whole point is that I want to share that feeling with you.

Joe Hammer is a junior English and government and politics major. He can be reached at jhammer1 at umd dot edu. This column was originally submitted to the Leadership and Community Service-Learning Office’s Spirit of Service essay contest in December. The Diamondback will be publishing the winning columns every Friday during the month of February.

Appalachia, Kentucky

Posted in Alternative Spring Breaks, student projects with tags , , , on February 16, 2011 by JennaBrager

I went on my first real community service trip to Appalachia, KY as a freshman last year through the Alternative Spring Breaks program. In high school, I worked with my church, was in National Honor Society, volunteered at hospitals and worked in soup kitchens-all that boring stuff meant for resumes-so of course I knew what service was all about.  I expected that, as usual, I would put my time in, make people smile, and leave happier than I came because I did someone some good.

All this came true, just as it had before and just as it will again. But I left this trip with something extra, something I hadn’t ever gained from service. And it was from one of the smaller projects: planting grass and painting shutters for an older resident of Boring, KY.

Shutters? Lawn seed? Service was supposed to be more than yard work, so I went in with a less-than-enthusiastic disposition. We got to the property, a typical western Kentucky rancher with old lawn furniture and rusty child playthings strewn on a dry, brown dirt patch of a lawn.

The trip leader went to the front door and a very solemn elder lady came to answer in her pajamas, her eyes red and glassy. We began working in the early morning sun. Later, I entered the house to go to the bathroom and noticed the nice lady crying over the phone at the kitchen table. I went over to her and asked if she was alright and heard a story for which I was not prepared.

Jaquita’s grandson had just committed suicide a few days prior. He was found in his room, gun in hand, facedown in his bed. Jaquita was devastated. I stayed and comforted her for a while until she looked at me and began to smile. Tears left her eyes as she declared how happy she was to have all of us there helping her with such menial tasks that she couldn’t possibly do herself.

She looked at me and told me that I reminded her of her grandson. It brought her relief and comfort to know that I was there; almost as if it were her grandson telling her he was in a better place. She was adamant that our crew were messengers from God coming to comfort her at such a turbulent time in her life.

Now this could have been total B.S. I didn’t have to believe that I looked like her grandson or any of that (though I saw a picture and kind of did). I didn’t have to think that our service trip was part of mission from God to relieve this lady from grief. For once, it didn’t matter what I believed. This wasn’t about me. The point was that this lady gained some serious relief and comfort from our visit. We left her happier and feeling better after a huge family tragedy.

That was the biggest success of the trip. It wasn’t the house that we built or the ramp we constructed or any of the meaningless yard work. It was making a huge impact in the life of this nice lady, who couldn’t have been further removed from my life here in busy DC.

I still mail Jaquita today, almost one year later. We keep in touch and talk about what’s going on in our lives. She will always be a part of my life and her story will always be close to me. This trip showed me what service was truly about. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

–Andrew C. Morreale, UMD sophomore