The Gifts of Sustained Service
Contributed by Nan Peterson (Director of Service-learning at Blake) and Lisa Sackreiter (Upper School Service-learning Coordinator)
The Blake School, just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota is a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 school where students participate in academic, artistic and athletic activities in preparation for college, life-long learning, community service and lives as responsible world citizens. Blake’s Service Learning program was created in 1999 and has since served as a vehicle of exploration for the many cultures, languages, and backgrounds that make up the multi-cultural population of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
Blake students have the opportunity to be recognized if they complete one hundred hours of service and a written reflection about their experience. One of the questions they are asked to answer is, “what did you receive through service?” Reading through their responses, the variety of skills, the shifts in perspective, and the deep satisfaction that students found through their sustained service are striking. These are the gifts of sustained service in their own words:
“The people I worked alongside included men who had lived very challenging lives, growing up in areas where crime is rampant and danger is an everyday thing. During our work sessions, where we built out the basement of a somewhat dilapidated building, we heard many life stories from our co-workers. Their challenges were hard to imagine, coming from my personal background, and I learned a lot about how so many people live day to day…I learned about teamwork, relying on those around you and being grateful for my many blessings. I also learned that I can do things that I never thought I would be comfortable doing—such as approaching a homeless person on the street and starting a conversation by sharing my meal.” – John (’14) volunteered with Sunshine Gospel Ministries, an organization that serves people living in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South side.
“I look forward every week to Wednesday night when I go to a food shelf surrounded by positive and energetic people and do simple chores such as restocking shelves, helping people bag groceries, or walking around with those who need help picking out the things they need for their families. We go through school every day complaining about assignments, lack of sleep, social problems, etc., but at the food shelf no one does that…My time at the food shelf has been so eye opening to me, not only to the power I possess to help people, but to help myself by surrounding myself with positive energy and being gracious for the small gestures others do for me.” – Simrun (’14) worked at the food shelf at Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners.
“One time I saw one of my cousin’s friends at People Reaching Out to Other People (PROP) on a cold December day, and remembering that I wasn’t allowed to talk to them, I continued restocking the shelves. That moment made me really take to heart what my trainer said when she told me that anyone could walk in asking for help…It made me think about how easily someone could be in need and not express it in any form outside the food shelf…I have gained perspective outside of my bubble, and I am excited to try to find another service path so I can broaden my perspective on how I can help my community or even the world.” – Emily (’14) worked at the food shelves of PROP.
“This experience has been important to me because of my family situation. When I was born, my brother was at Children’s Hospital with cancer. When I was young, I spent a lot of time at there, and I remember going to the sibling play area where I now sometimes volunteer. Also when I was ten, my cousin Madison was born three months early and spent the first year of her life in the hospital. Now both of them are alive and healthy. I am grateful for them to be in my life. I feel like my volunteering is the best way to give to a hospital that has given me so much.” – Marcus (’14) volunteered at Children’s Hospital playing with patients and their siblings.
“I learned about the value of education and the importance of sharing knowledge with others for the benefit of all because, as citizens who are impacted daily by the government, these issues affect us all. Working as an intern, marching in parades, handing out stickers, and chanting campaign slogans was physically tiring, but it made me feel strong because I was standing up for what I believed in…I loved it!” – Margaret (’14) interned with Congressman Keith Ellison’s campaign for re-election and campaigned for “voting no” on the constitutional amendments that were on the ballot in November 2012.
“There is no way to form relationships with the students at LearningWorks without listening to their accomplishments, struggles, and goals in life. By interacting with these students I’ve gotten better at socializing with my peers; I’m now more patient, understanding, and willing to hear people out. I realized that, as a teacher, I needed to be the one showing passion and excitement with the students. I became more proactive…I soon learned that if I took the first step that the students would quickly respond in kind and be more willing to be tutored…Even though it is a cliché, I truly think that I’ve become a better person through my community service.” – Fawaz (’14) worked with middle school students through LearningWorks and Bear to Bear tutoring.
“The kids at Opportunity Camp taught me to accept others. When I first came to Opportunity Camp I was a little bit wary because I knew that it was extremely Christian. However, I watched how kids who were Christian and kids who weren’t Christian were accepting and kind to each other’s opinions and listened nicely and respectfully as their leaders taught them. Although I don’t agree with everything that my leader said, she taught me so much about basic values, right and wrong, and she gave me many things to think about, religious and otherwise.” – Emma (’16) was a counselor at Opportunity Camp in Mineral Wells, Texas.
“A main objective of the Amigos program is to ensure that volunteers are working with the community and developing lasting initiatives, so that the work will continue even after the volunteers have left the community. Amigos has really taught me the meaning of the saying, ‘give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.’ It is better to work together and learn from each other than to go in, give something, and leave. – Darby (’14) volunteered through Amigos De Las Americas, a service-learning abroad program.
“I love Planned Parenthood’s Teen Council and all that it stands for because it makes myself and others resources for other teens who may not feel comfortable talking to their parents or other adult figures about birth control or other issues regarding sexual health…This program has given me more knowledge and confidence than I ever could have thought imaginable.” – Nina (’14) is on Planned Parenthood’s Twin Cities Teen Council.
“The most rewarding experience for me as an instructor was seeing the joy not only on my students’ faces as they experienced the thrill of skiing, but also the joy on their parents’ faces while watching their kids go down the hill. One of my students was completely nonverbal. One day his mom came to watch him ski and she was taking pictures and having a great time. There was a smile on her face and she was clearly very proud of her son. This really touched me and I felt really good about myself knowing that I helped bring joy to both my student’s and his parent’s life…I gained knowledge about the disabled, but I also learned about myself and my own actions, and how good it feels to make a parent proud of their child.” – Chris (’14) was a ski instructor for Courage Center’s adaptive skiing program at Highland Hills.
“As I served, I felt a source of genuine happiness after seeing in person the families that I was helping. I saw the ambitious single mother’s smile and pride glow as she received her furniture as each child of hers would now be able to sleep in their own bed at night instead of curling up on the floor. I saw appreciation and respect radiate from children when their father showed them the furniture they would be receiving later that day…After meeting these recipients and hearing their heartwarming “thank you,” along with hearing them share goals for the near future with Bridging’s staff, it is incomprehensible when others judge homeless people solely on the fact that they don’t have a house.” – Bryan (’14) volunteered at Bridging, Inc.
“One morning we got to meet the kids and hear some of their stories. Many were heartbreaking and this week-long camp gave them the chance to escape their problems. For example, many children had parents in jail and other kids shared their small homes with many siblings and never knew what they would get to eat. These stories helped me to understand the problems facing our country. Attending Blake, I do not experience the hardships of living in a poor community. These children inspired me to put my life in perspective…I have also learned to stay positive…Even in bad situations these kids remained positive and kept a hopeful outlook on life.” – Robyn (’16) was a counselor at Opportunity Camp in Mineral Wells, Texas.