Stephanie Lopez, CentroNía

Prior to my service learning experience this semester, I always had a cynical view on service learning thinking it did not create a lot of positive results. I assumed that because the service time was being condensed to a semester and graded, that the participants were more interested in looking good and getting A’s rather than the actually service. However, once I began having discussions with other students on service learning in my writing course called, Rewriting the Starfish Story, my mindset began changing. The discussions we held in class made me rethink what I thought service learning could be and I refocused my attention towards finding my place in service. I began seeing that everyone had different ideas and strengths when it came to service and what they wanted in return. Thus, my goal when serving has become to create a reciprocal process for myself and those I served.

Working at CentroNía has been a tough and incredibly enjoyable experience. As tutor to three students, I have been surprised about how much I love working with kids and how exhausting they can be. My expectations when I started working for CentroNía was that it would be easy and that the students would appreciate my work daily. But that is not true at all. Hence, the most important things I have learned so far are patience and persistence. Every time one of my students is too tired or not in the mood to do work, I have to remember that they have just come for 8 hours of school and are probably more tired than me. Also, I have learned how to connect the games we play to lessons; for example, if they need a break we play hang-man but I make sure the they use their vocabulary words so they can practice.

Additionally, I have learned to be realistic with my students and myself. In beginning, I wanted to be everything for my students and help them outside of just tutoring. However, I quickly learned that I could not be all those things. As a busy college student and not having a lot experience mentoring, I quickly had a reality check that I should not do more than I could keep up with. Also, not all students needed or wanted that from me. I assumed that they would want me to part of their lives outside of CentroNía but that was me being selfish and having a savior complex. Thus, I have learned that being honest and realistic is key to make sure that the students and I are always on the same page so no one is let down. Furthermore, making an honest plan on what you can accomplish with service learning can help make things easier to manage and have positive results instead of letting things fall apart.

Another place I have been serving is Thrive DC. I have no previous experience working with the homeless community or adults and going in I was very nervous. But my nerves and questions about working with homeless women ended on my first day. Working with Thrive DC as given me the opportunity to learn about a community that has a lot of harmful misconceptions from the public. My role at Thrive is to keep the women who come for dinner company, and this has given me the opportunity to learn about their stories and how homelessness cannot be fit into one box. The women all have different backgrounds with some being college graduates, workers in low earning jobs, and others addicts. Some of them still have homes but just want company in a safe place and others see this an escape from the streets. Also, almost all of them are open and kind and want someone to talk to. Thus, serving for Thrive has helped me see the reciprocal process discussed in my writing class because while the women have me to talk to, I have been given the privilege to learn from them homeless and living in DC.

Has I continue my service learning with CentroNía and Thrive DC I have become more conscious about my role as a volunteer and what I can do for those I serve. My cynical view of service learning has been eliminated because I have encountered amazing changes from the students and women I serve weekly. From my students actually being happy to see me and understanding the lessons who are doing to the women being more open to talk about their experiences. Also, I have seen myself change, I have become more open minded and patience because I know those I serve need that from me. I very happy to continue this work and I know it can only get better.

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