By: Stephanie Flores
Today marks day 7 and the last day of my service alternative break with Old Dominion University to Florida and I have to say, it’s been quite an experience. First I would like to explain why I do service and how this week’s experience changed my perspective on the reasons why I do it. I have been doing service since 2008 in different settings, from a humanitarian relief mission in the Caribbean to volunteering with a local organization devoted to end youth homelessness in my community. All my previous experiences have been good but I always felt limited by the organization I was working with; I knew my contributions were making somewhat a change but I never really got to see that change with my own eyes.
If you asked me before this trip why I chose to do service, my answer would have been because I want to give back and it makes me feel good knowing that I can make a small change in the life of someone in need. Now, I’m not saying my reasons have changed but they have definitely got more specific and now I can say I completely understand them. I have to give credit to this 7 day trip for this reasoning and for the experiences that I’m about to share with you.
As ODU students, we had four different Spring break volunteering options to choose from. The trip to Florida caught my attention because the mission was to work with youth development. I’m very passionate about development of individuals in general so this seemed the perfect fit for me. Our group consisted of nine students and a faculty advisor to accompany us in this mission. We volunteered to work with International Children’s Outreach (ICO) whose founder have opened two affordable preschools and after care facilities for children living in marginalized communities in FL.
The first day which was a Sunday, we got to know each other a bit more. Starting Monday we started our work in the preschool in Miami which was located in a low income area and then the remaining four days we worked in the Ft. Lauderdale school.
Earlier I mentioned this trip was quite an experience and that it changed my perspectives on the reasons why I do service and it really did. I realized I was just not working towards these children’s development but my own. I learned the real definition of teamwork and what working in synergy entitled. The title of my article is the awesome bunch and I chose that name referring to the children we work with, the ICO staff and the amazing team of volunteers working with me in this mission.
All ten of us come from different backgrounds, live different lifestyles, and have different career goals, but none of that was an issue this week, on the contrary, it made this experience much more enriching. We worked hard, we empathized, we laughed, we shared stories, we felt compassion, we motivated and empowered each other, we shared our dreams, our passions, in other words we bonded…we became friends.
This experience changed my concept of teamwork, I have never worked alongside a group of people so in sync like this awesome bunch. Teamwork is not all I learned about. I learned that my contributions do not make a small change in someone’s life, it actually makes a huge impact in all of the people’s lives involved in the mission, specially my own.
I got to see firsthand who was benefiting from our service, the children. We planted a flower garden for them, we beautified their playgrounds. We also got to spend time with the children, we helped them with homework and we played with them. When we were working outside they would come out their classrooms to cheer us and watch us working hard under the Florida sun, shoveling mulch into their playground. We taught them about hard work, but most importantly we showed them that we cared.
When helping a little girl with her homework, I asked about her dreams, she told me when she grows up she wants to be like Dr. Martin Luther King. I told her she could be anything she wanted to be as long as she puts all her heart on it and works hard towards it, she smiled…We motivated them.
All the kids remembered our names, we definitely made an impact.
My team taught me to follow my dreams, they made me want to continue pursuing my passion, they inspired me. The Directors of the organization motivated me and taught me that whatever my purpose in life is, if I have passion I will accomplish it, they humbled me.
The children taught me about kindness and compassion. They specifically taught me that is not the material things that you provide them that will make them happy but that the most important thing you can give them is your time, hope, a kind word, care, and most of all, your love.
Overall the best part of this trip was that we all enjoyed ourselves while doing hard work, the time spent with the team was amazing, working towards our mission and talking to the kids was fun, we touched lives. If you are thinking about doing service, don’t hesitate and do it; I promise you it will be worth it.