Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another Exercise in Walking Humbly

This semester I have the opportunity to do a Comenius Internship at United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM), the organization mentioned in Tu’s post about 2010 Transitions StreetFest. This is an exciting position for me personally as it increases my experience in the non-profit world, but it is also an interesting experience as a Service-Learning Center employee because the Service-Learning Center sends many students to UCOM as Homework House tutors. My short experience at UCOM so far has reminded me of the importance of acting with grace and humility towards these service-learners and towards other service-learners that we send from our office.

When we send students to UCOM I expect them to do good work. I think that they should be on time, be polite and do an excellent job tutoring the elementary students with whom they work. I want them to reflect when they return and make a long-term commitment to the program.

These goals are easy for me to make as I sit in the Service-Learning Center, a place I am very comfortable in after three years of working there. However, my perspective has changed slightly after beginning my own “service-learning” experience at UCOM. At UCOM I have to ask, even about the smallest detail—“How do you use the printer?”, “What’s the name of that volunteer again?”, “How many pounds of cheese go into the bag?” It’s frustrating sometimes not knowing what to do and feeling as though I’m not doing a very good job or being helpful to the agency. I’m tired after a day of communicating in Spanish and I don’t particularly want to reflect on my experience. And, I probably can’t make a long-term commitment to UCOM because I most likely will be leaving Grand Rapids after this semester.

How, then, do I reconcile my experiences feeling not-so helpful and not-so reflective with my goals for the service-learners sent from our office? Well, to begin with, it’s important to remember that service-learning is a process for everyone involved. Service-learners won’t be terribly helpful at the beginning of their time and may not be very reflective. Hopefully, though, after spending time at their agencies students will learn the ins and outs of the agency and start to be an asset instead of a burden. Hopefully, too, as students have more experiences they will begin to reflect naturally on how what they see and the lives they live are connected.

Also, it is important for us at the Service-Learning Center to treat the service-learners with grace and humility. We don’t know their life experiences or even their experiences at their sites, so we must be careful not to judge their involvement without a little more investigation. Our expectations for them shouldn’t necessarily lower, but our way of interacting with them must be careful.

In fact, the whole process of service-learning is a game of grace and humility. The agencies we work with must treat the Service-Learning Center staff with grace as we try to be responsible to them and to be full-time students. The students must have grace and humility with us and with the agencies as we work out organizational kinks, and we must have grace and humility with the students and with the organizations as we try to communicate and work together.

Once again, the StreetFest theme of this Fall “Walk Humbly” comes back to challenge and encourage us to walk humbly with our service-learners and agencies.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Transition 10: Being Reminded of How to Walk Humbly

On Saturday, January 30th, we as staffs of the Service-Learning Center were blessed to be able to spend our days serving and learning with the new and transferred students of Transition 2010. Though this day was in many ways a much smaller scale of Streetfest Day, we were glad to see the same excitement and willingness from the students to learn and serve as those came in the fall.

The students were given a more detailed presentation of the city of Grand Rapids and its unique neighborhoods. They also had a van tour around Grand Rapids before their arrivals at the agency and thus were able to see these neighborhoods outside the classroom introduction. The students were then split off to go serve at two different agencies, YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) and UCOM(United Church Outreach Ministry). I stayed in the group of students working at UCOM and enjoyed much of the interactions and the reflective conversations we had. It was the first time for me at UCOM and thus like all the new students, I was very appreciative of the history through which UCOM has developed as an outreach ministry, a tutoring center (Homework House) and a food pantry (partnering with ACCESS) for the southwest community of Grand Rapids.

Not only did we learn about the food system UCOM tries to maintain for their clients, but also we got to be the servers by repackaging the donated food, cleaning the freezer and rearranging the grocery shelves for future clients. Though some projects were done outside in the freezing weather, I was glad that most students were eager to help out with them. The conversation afterwards was refreshing and encouraging. All of them had fun engaging with one another as they served. They also expressed appreciation for the good works being done at UCOM and their eagerness to go out and explore the city of Grand Rapids.

As we wrapped up the day, we as the staffs were glad to have met these new students and been part of their orientation to Calvin. In a way, this Transition day was a refresher and encourager for us to continue our humble walk of service to Calvin students and the greater Grand Rapids community as the whole staff and as individuals.