My first Oglethorpe Alternative Winter Break was amazing, relationship-building, eye-opening, and reflective. From January 3-8, ten Oglethorpe students and two staff members volunteered to help with disaster relief for damage caused by the April 2011 tornados that swept through Tuscaloosa, Ala. Although part of the city has been cleaned up and rebuilt, there are numerous communities that look like the storm passed through just yesterday.
During our first morning service project, we worked with Compassion Coalition to patch up a home that was previously destroyed by the tornado. We hammered trim to fill in an elderly woman’s bedroom cracks from the wall to the ceiling and covered up a hole in her floor. Hearing Vicki’s story was extremely heartbreaking and devastating as she lost eight people in the tornado, including her husband and her son. This was my most memorable moment of Alternative Winter Break because I saw the true strength that the people of Tuscaloosa possessed through such difficult times. To lose everything precious to you and still have hope for a better tomorrow finally put meaning behind my own mother’s words: “There is hope for the living.” Regardless of what few possessions Vicki had, or where she was living now, she had today and that was enough for her.
During that same afternoon, we volunteered with the Volunteer Reception Committee to pick up debris from and around a home that was destroyed by the tornado. Our group genuinely bonded over this experience as we became better acquainted with each other as well as the individual who had once lived in this home. We all put ourselves in the shoes of this woman and recognized how truly thankful we are to simply have a roof over our heads.
For the next three days, we worked with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild a home for a family who was displaced by the tornado. We met the mother, father and two children who would move into this home in less than three weeks, all because of our hard work. We were able to learn new construction skills all while helping a family who both needed and appreciated our efforts.
In addition to our daily service projects, throughout the week we participated in various teambuilding activities, reflections and presentations. We held discussions with native Tuscaloosa community members about preparations for the tornado, during the tornado and the rebuilding process. We even had the opportunity to speak with an individual who was part of the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa. Learning more about the history of Tuscaloosa first-hand provided us all with insight that could not be read online or even in a book.
Volunteering with the nonprofit organizations and participating in the various group activities throughout the week helped us to grow together as a group and as individuals. If I can close on one piece of advice it would be to take advantage of opportunities where your surroundings are completely different; your ideas, passions, and talents can be exercised in such a way that personal growth can occur. Sometimes growth can happen in the most unlikely places.
OU students – if you’re interested in making a difference by participating in Alternative Spring Break (March 18-24, 2012), join us in the Center for Civic Engagement this Friday, January 27, 12-12:30 pm or contact Heather Staniszewski at email@example.com. Applications are also available NOW in the CCE or on PetrelNet.
“Join the A-Team for A-Day of Service!” was a catchphrase we chanted last week at the Center for Civic Engagement to get students pumped for Oglethorpe University’s Atlanta Day of Service, which took place last Saturday, October 1. More than 90 Oglethorpe students, staff, faculty, alumni, community members—and a recordbreaking 16 parents!—showed up bright and early for Oglethorpe’s second Day of Service this semester.
Volunteers gave their time at one of the following nonprofit organizations: Lynwood Park Recreation Center, Blue Heron Nature Preserve, Sunrise Assisted Living, Suthers Center for Christian Outreach or Open Hand. Whether they were creating trails and dams at Blue Heron Nature Preserve or preparing meals for the chronically and terminally ill patients at Open Hand, the volunteers worked selflessly in their endeavors to provide their best work to these organizations.
The Atlanta Day of Service was also the second COEXIST Oglethorpe event this semester. COEXIST Oglethorpe was started by students, staff, and faculty members in June 2011 as a response to President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. President Obama challenged over 300 colleges and universities around the country to promote intentional interfaith dialogue and community service. Center for Civic Engagement Program Coordinator Peyton Healy and Sophomore Class President Awet Woldegebriel kicked off Atlanta Day of Service and challenged them to think about and discuss “what does COEXIST mean to you?”
As a Center for Civic Engagement Student Ambassador, I had the honor of co-leading the service project at Suthers Center of Christian Outreach Thrift Store. Suthers Center opened its doors a year ago as a collaboration of local churches in order to provide food, clothing, and emergency assistance for over 130 families in the Chamblee and Brookhaven areas. The Suthers Center does not have any paid staff—they are all volunteers who run the Center six days out of the week.
Eleven students, parents, staff members and I unpacked nearly 100 boxes of donated winter clothing. We packed summer clothing away, put price tags on winter clothing and painted the display walls. We also made sure that the front of the store looked presentable and approachable for customers.
On Atlanta Day of Service, I learned something important: I learned how simple serving others can be. Serving others does not necessarily mean exhausting yourself to do something momentous or earth shaking, but rather doing something that makes someone’s day a little bit easier. Before volunteering at Suthers Center, I had the mindset that I had to do the former in order to be helpful. But, about an hour into our volunteering, one of the Suthers Center volunteers walked in with an astonished look on her face and expressed pure joy for our work: “What you all have done in an hour of time would have taken us MONTHS to accomplish!”
It was at that moment that I began to understand the real purpose for serving others. It doesn’t matter about the size of your actions; in fact, it was never about that. It is about your desire and pure kindness to lighten someone’s load, because they are a part of this world just like you.