Before our service trip to Detroit, I had a lot of excitement and anticipation for what was to happen on the trip. In fact, I wrote an entire pre-service trip blog reflection about it before we went! LAS in the D was an experience that I will never forget. This trip lived up to my expectations, and will serve as a future reminder to continue serving and giving back.
We began our service at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, where my group of five facilitators was paired with three JRLA students. When we first met with our groups, we were given a challenge of coming up with a team chant and participating in ice-breakers to get to know each other. Following this, our service projects with the students consisted of four separate sessions: Cards for Veterans, the Children’s Hospital, Special Olympics Michigan, and OK2SAY. I was in charge of facilitating the activity for SOMI, in which we made signs for each athlete who will be participating in the 2016 Special Olympics Summer games that will be held on CMU’s campus. Since the athletes stay in the residence halls for the duration of the games, the signs that we made will be hung in the halls for the athletes to see. I began facilitating the activity by asking if any of the students had ever heard of Special Olympics before. They had not. So I began explaining what SOMI is and what they do, and while I was explaining I noticed one student’s face light up. All three of the students were listening to me speak, however this student was wholly attentive, and seemed genuinely excited about what I had to say, though he said nothing. I then went on to explain the SpRead the WoRd to End the WoRd campaign, which the students were also not familiar with. At the end of my presentation, I told the students that, if they wished, they had the option of signing the pledge to participate in the campaign to promote respect instead of the use of the “R word” as an insult. I then sat down and began to work on the signs with the students, when I noticed the same boy that had held my gaze earlier in the presentation. He had gotten up in silence, signed the pledge, and sat back down, smiling. The way this student’s face lit up, I will always remember. I could see that he was genuinely excited, and that he understood that he would be making a difference by making his decision. That is what service is all about.
Following our visit to the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, we were taken to Pizzapapalis for dinner, which I was looking forward to because I had been there multiple times previously and knew fully well how good the food was going to be. When we got there, we were surprised with a few LAS Alumni who had come to share dinner with us as well. I had the opportunity to catch up with some of the alumni that I hadn’t seen in awhile, as well as the privilege to meet and speak with alumni I had never met before. After dinner, we were then able to spend two hours at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which I was very excited for because I had never been there before. The only downside to the DIA was that I wish we had more time! I saw so many beautiful, historic, and unique pieces of work, but there was still so much more that I wish I would have been able to see. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the DIA, and I hope that sometime soon I will be able to go back and spend time to see all I had missed.
At night, we stayed at the DNR’s Outdoor Adventure Center in Downtown Detroit. The building itself had a very rich history, but was newly renovated in order to better serve its purpose for the DNR bringing “up north” to downtown Detroit. We were given time to relax and explore the building, which was then followed by and intensive debriefing session. I think that this was a great opportunity to not only share my experiences from the day, but enrich and expand on my experience by hearing what my group members had to say and by diving into very meaningful conversations that helped me to personally reflect on my day and that allowed me to carry over what I had learned into the following day as well.
The next morning, LAS went to Cass Community Social Services. I learned a lot about Cass as an organization, but what stood out to me the most was that Cass employs people who are homeless and people who have gotten out of prison, providing each of them with food, jobs, skill training, and places to stay, allowing people to get back on their feet. I think that that is absolutely awesome. Among the service that my cohort did at Cass was volunteering at the soup kitchen and shelter, making mats and shoes out of recycled tires, and working at the paper recycling center, which is where my group and I volunteered. At the paper recycling center, we walked into a room with mounds of documents – both shredded and unshredded – and it was apparent that there was a lot of work to be done. The majority of us were standing along a conveyor belt, during which time we sorted papers, separating white papers from colorful papers and filling separate bins for each. The people who were not working on the conveyor belt were operating the massive shredder. I really enjoyed volunteering at the paper recycling center because my group had a great bonding experience and we made our work a lot of fun.
The key to having a successful service trip is not only going into it with an open mind, but also remembering on a daily basis the service that has been done. So easily we allow ourselves to slip back into our daily routines and become comfortable with what is familiar to us instead of challenging ourselves to grow and continuing to give back. We need to remember our challenges, feelings, relationships, actions, and take-aways that have resulted from our service and continue to grow and challenge ourselves through a continuation of service. A service trip is not meant to be a memory of an experience we have had, but a constant reminder to put others before ourselves and continue to do more by giving back to others.