My name is Julia Post and I am a first semester freshman at American University, majoring in International Relations. This semester I volunteered at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and CentroNia in Colombia Heights. I connected my work in each center with Roots of Racism, an anthropology course that explores the origins of racialized structures, especially here in the United States. Over the course of three months I have been challenged, amazed, and forced to confront social issues that were never before a part of my life. My time at CARECEN and Centronia have helped to shape for me a new conceptualization of my place in the world and my duty to play a role in the lives of others.
I began my work at CARECEN first, and each week that I went in I was met with new surprises and challenges that I had never anticipated. I was working for Mayra, the director of the Community Support Services Department. My job was to help translate legal documents, update the referral system, and work with the new DC program for Limited Purpose Drivers Licenses, designed to allow for immigrant/non-citizens to be able to legally drive cars. I learned how to use professional sales websites, translate birth certificates and marriage licenses, and even had to call people to remind them about appointments in Spanish. Although I am in Intermediate Spanish at school, I am far from fluent, and having to talk on the phone in Spanish was a huge factor in forcing me out of my comfort zone for the first time.
A few weeks after I started at CARECEN I joined DC Reads and continued to volunteer in Colombia Heights at CentroNia, where I tutored students in an afterschool program. The incredible part of this experience is that I was getting the chance to work with two demographics of the same community. At CARECEN I was working with mostly adults and even more elderly people, calling them and or helping them to fill out paperwork. Being exposed to the younger generation at Centronia allowed me to gain a better understanding of the Latin American Community as a whole. While many of the adults were unable to speak English, all of the kids at Centronia were bilingual and gaining the benefits of both their Latino and American experiences. I loved getting to know my students and help them grow in their studies, for the first time I felt that I was truly making a difference. My experiences coincided perfectly with my Roots of Racism course. As I learned about the institutions in place which allow for a systematic racism to occur, I saw it for my own eyes in Colombia Heights. The Latin American community, hardworking and dedicated to their livelihood, have faced much adversity and disenfranchisement, and are constantly fighting against these setbacks. I wanted my work to help to change that.
Of course, my CSLP experience turned out nothing like what I originally expected. My romantic mental images of volunteering depicted me performing miracle work in a fast paced professional environment, in the heart of Capitol Hill. Instead, I was exposed to difficulties and setbacks of volunteer work, realizing that it is not just one big all-encompassing movement but instead a slow, gradual process towards small change. As I saw in my time at CARECEN and Centronia, it is all about the little triumphs, not about upending the world every single day. Volunteer work, to say the least, is much more complex than what I would have thought in the past. However, the challenge is part of what makes the end result so rewarding. I look forward to continuing my volunteerism in DC in my next years at American University and I am thankful to the Community Service Learning Program for giving me this amazing opportunity.