Archive for the Why we serve Category

Postcards from My Country

Posted in Why we serve with tags , , , on April 29, 2011 by JennaBrager

Postcards from My Country is a one-credit service learning course offered by the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House. Postcards places mentors from the University of Maryland with teenagers at Northwestern High School. Over the course of the semester, the students at Northwestern work on producing poetry for Postcards from My Country Journal, under the supervision of their mentors and a Writers’ House staff member. This year, the program was conducted entirely after school (instead of during students’ English classes) and therefore, students were self-selected—they choose to come each week.

I was interested in the program, partly because of my own experience moving to Maryland eleven years ago and the role that writing has played in my life. Postcards seemed like a great opportunity to share both my immigrant and creative experiences with high school students. Although, I don’t think that I intended to share as much of myself with the kids as I have. On our first day of mentoring, we introduced ourselves to the students and assigned them a writing prompt. I reclined back in my seat and started to look around.

We work in an ESOL classroom tucked in a corner of Northwestern, decorated with words and phrases in English and Spanish. Their teacher has posted their new years’ resolutions on the back wall. A recurring theme is a desire from the students to learn English, to do well in school, to make new friends.

My casual observations this first day were interrupted by our supervising Writers’ House staff member, Jesse Freeman, letting the mentors know that we were also expected to work on the prompt with the students. Now, in all my altruistic calculations, it never once occurred to me that I would have to write poetry. When the time came to share with our small group, I found that I was more nervous than some of the students. However, I think that it made the experience all the more rewarding for them to see the mentors have to tackle the same prompts and big ideas. Ultimately, this helped to build camaraderie and to help the students perceive us as facilitators rather than “teachers”.

One day that I think I will as always remember was 3 or 4 weeks ago when Rebecca Roberts, our faculty liaison at Northwestern, came over to us and said bluntly, “Something bad happened in the ESOL hallway this week,”

She took a poster featuring a poem from last year’s journal, off her desk.

“So, you know, they had the superintendent visiting some of the ESOL classrooms. He came in here and I said to him, this is what we do in my classroom.”

Yes, I thought, this is what we do in Room 1116.

–Jihan Asher, Junior History Major


Rebuilding Hope in the Wake of Katrina

Posted in Why we serve with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2011 by JennaBrager

It was the summer as I was about to enter high school that Katrina hit. I remember seeing the pictures on TV, reading the stories in the newspaper, and hearing the heartbreaking stories of those who lost everything in the hurricane. Living in an affluent area of New Jersey, I was unaffected by the tragic event, yet I still felt the pain of these people. I couldn’t imagine losing everything, especially not as a result of something as unpredictable as extreme weather, and I wanted to do something to help.

Two summers later, I was given that opportunity. My church youth group went on a mission trip to New Orleans, where we helped rebuild houses that had been destroyed by the storm. We worked with a non-profit group named Service International and were stationed in the attic of what used to be a megachurch, but had been badly hurt by the hurricane and was now serving as a storehouse for all the building equipment and donated and salvaged furniture. While it was sad to see what had used to be a huge, beautiful church turn into a dark warehouse, it was at the same time uplifting: it was still a house of worship, but instead of worship in the form of spoken prayers, it was serving as a real-life prayer and blessing for so many people in the area.

At the worksites, I hung drywall, painted walls, and cleaned worksites along with many other people from all over the country who had been coming together since the event to rebuild the lives of those affected. I couldn’t believe that almost two years after Hurricane Katrina, there were still countless abandoned and destroyed homes, and still so many families living in the FEMA trailers they had been given (which were supposed to be temporary); it looked as though the storm had just hit the week before.

What touched me the most was how thankful the locals and owners of these homes were for our help. They would come talk to us as we worked and thank us; one older man started crying when he thanked us for fixing up the home that had been in his family for years. I felt like I was doing something truly meaningful and giving of myself to serve others, and I learned just how much an act of kindness can mean to someone.

Unfortunately, not long after my experience in New Orleans, the non-profit group that we worked through had to pull out of the area, and more and more of disaster relief groups did as well. The reason was that people, seeing Katrina as “old news,” stopped donating money to the organizations, and donations were all these groups had to operate with. To this day, New Orleans is still not entirely fixed up, and it’s been over five years since the storm.

My experience rebuilding homes after Hurricane Katrina was extremely rewarding, and I strongly encourage other students and young people to get involved in whatever way they can to help out others; there is nothing like the feeling of giving of yourself to those in need. I went with a religious group, but those are not the only types of organizations that provide ways to volunteer. I encourage students to explore the many organizations right here on campus, like Habitat for Humanity or International Student Volunteers, and see how they can get involved in helping others. There is no act too small to make a difference.

–Lauren Mendelsohn, sophomore

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.

Diamondback Guest column: Learning through service

Posted in student projects, Why we serve with tags , , , , on February 11, 2011 by umdcsl

This column was originally submitted to the Leadership & 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.

Last summer, I traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador, through the Alternative Breaks program with 17 other students and staff from this university to volunteer in an indigenous community and elementary school. We traveled there unsure of what we would experience and learn. When we drove through the breathtaking Andes Mountains to get to the community, I think we all realized it would be a trip we would never forget. And that’s exactly what happened. Each day, for a week, we would travel the long but beautiful hour to the indigenous community, Shina.

We played with the children, taught them English and helped improve the physical aspects of the school.

Throughout the trip, we became extremely close with the children, and the last day was one of the most difficult days of my life. The children made scarves for us, and the adults made us the great Ecuadorian delicacy of guinea pig. (Yes, that was an interesting experience.) I sat there and cried with my friends when we realized we would be leaving this beautiful community and these amazing children. As I cried, an 8-year-old Ecuadorian boy, Victor, gave me one of the best hugs I have ever received and started to sing the Ecuadorian song, “Ojos Azules.” The lyrics translated to “blue eyes don’t cry,” and as he sang the song, he wiped the tears from my eyes. Then in Spanish, he whispered, “Don’t forget us,” and a single tear rolled down his cheek. Victor and the other children — who had taught us so much about love and kindness — simply asked that we not forget them.

The bus ride back to our host families was completely silent as we each sat with our own thoughts and tears. I think we all realized how much this experience really affected us, and as we contemplated our experiences, we drove through those picturesque mountains for the last time. I quickly understood the irony of the situation. These people who had nothing (other than a great deal of happiness, which is all you really need) were giving us scarves, meals and most importantly, a warm embrace and a shoulder to cry on. The people we had gone to help actually helped us by making us better people and teaching us what was truly important in life.

When we came back to the United States, many of us felt there was a hole in our hearts that would not heal. We missed Ecuador and the experiences we had there, but most of all we missed spending time with the children and being able to positively affect their lives. When one of our group members came home and filled the void by creating a student group, Bilingual Backpacks, we immediately got involved. Our mission is to improve and broaden the education of the children at the Arturo Quesada School by providing backpacks with school supplies and English-Spanish books. By being a part of Bilingual Backpacks, we can continue our efforts to help those children that affected us so much and changed our lives forever. We hope that more people join us in our mission so that we can all help to better the lives of the happiest, most caring people I have ever met.

Morgan Rich is a junior government and politics and secondary education major. She can be reached at mrich1 at umd dot edu.

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