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


Community Service-Learning VISTA position

Posted in Community Partners, CSL with tags , , , on March 9, 2011 by JennaBrager

2011-2012 MDCC-VISTA
Community Service-Learning Coordinator

Community Service-Learning (CSL), a part of the Leadership & Community Service-Learning unit in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, engages students at the University of Maryland in meaningful community service-learning with the local community through resources, programs, and events. CSL strives to educate students about the root causes of pressing social issues while making a meaningful and immediate difference in the local community.
The MDCC-VISTA Community Service-Learning Coordinator at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) will work with the Northwestern Connection program and Center for Educational Partnerships program to increase educational attainment and decrease drop-out rates of middle and high school students at two local schools. The VISTA will provide organizational structure and avenues to connect UMCP students with tutoring and mentoring programs geared towards Northwestern High School (NWHS) and William Wirt Middle School students, both within two miles of the University.

This VISTA position addresses the need for “cradle-through-college” solutions by helping to grow the seeds planted through the great work accomplished by the University of Maryland chapter of America Read*America Counts in Prince George’s County elementary schools, through middle and high school, towards the goal of college matriculation.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Foster relationships and strengthen communication between the University of Maryland and Northwestern High School and William Wirt Middle School, through the Northwestern Connection program and Center for Educational Partnerships, respectively.
  • Provide organizational structure and avenues to connect UMCP students with tutoring and mentoring programs geared towards Northwestern High School and William Wirt Middle School students.
  • Regularly convene Northwestern Connection Steering Committee of UMCP and NWHS stakeholders.
  • Conduct regular site visits to Northwestern Connection and Center for Educational Partnerships programs.
  • Develop and implement method for assessment for Northwestern Connection and Center for Educational Partnerships programs.
  • Assess drop-out, graduate, and college matriculation rates of students at NWHS.
  • Collecting and analyzing program evaluation data, including regular reflection and evaluation with community partners.
  • Working in collaboration with CSL students and staff on program recruitment, trainings and workshops.
  • Participating as an active member of the Leadership and Community-Service Learning staff team.

This is a 12-month Americorps*VISTA position that begins in August 2011.

The monthly stipend for this VISTA position is $1,163. Upon completing the 12-months of service, the person in this position can choose to receive either an education award worth $5,350 to pay for further education, or $1,500 cash. This position reports directly to the Coordinator for Leadership & Community Service-Learning.

Preferred candidates will have a degree in education, community development, sociology, public policy, human development, or closely related field and experience in one or more of the following areas: service-learning/community service, working with college students, working with community partners, training and program development, leadership development, working with diverse populations. Excellent communication and organizational skills required.  Spanish language proficiency strongly encouraged.
To apply:

Send resume, cover letter, and names and telephone numbers of three references to:
Mei-Yen Hui
Leadership & Community Service-Learning
0110 Stamp Union
College Park, MD 20742.
Fax: 301-314-9634
Feel free to direct questions to Mei-Yen Hui, Coordinator for Leadership & Community Service-Learning,, 301-314-0068.
The University of Maryland is an EEO/AA employer. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.

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