Learning Through Service

From Operation Kindness in the north to the North Texas Food Bank in the south, a distance of 25 miles, Upper School volunteers blanketed the Metroplex last week for the annual Community Service Day. From Shoes for Orphan Souls in the east 18 miles away to the Citizens Development Center in the west, Greenhill volunteers impacted the everyday lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Seventeen agencies were served by 503 faculty, students, and administrators. At the average value volunteer hour of $21.47, that makes $53,997 returned to the Dallas community. At the heart of the logistics of this massive undertaking was Sally Rosenberg, Director of Service Learning and Community Service. Sally helped to identify guest bloggers this week who will share their impressions of the day from their very different perspectives. First, Joel Garza, Upper School English teacher, takes us inside the project at Catholic Charities:

Looking back at the students on the bus ride home, I was amazed at how the service project seemed to give them more energy than they brought in the morning. Michael Manes, Wayne Hines, and I led nineteen Greenhill Upper School students to Catholic Charities to paint a mural. Junior Ivan Kumamoto designed an imaginative and colorful scene depicting the power of reading and the imagination. In addition to the simple joy of working together, the students delighted in remembering a time when reading was fun, when you wouldn’t think about going to bed before reading a book with your family.

Veteran faculty member Mary Tapia traveled to the Jubilee Center:

When assessing the success of Community Service Day, one could count how many students participated at how many agencies for how many hours. However, when I think of Community Service Day, I don’t think in those terms. I think more in terms of the intangible lessons I have learned both about my Community and about myself over the years. Every time I have participated has been a little different, even on those occasions when I have returned to the same location because every group of students is different and because the conditions change from year to year. This year I was privileged to go to Jubilee Park with Frank Lopez, David Lui, and a group of eleven students. Although I was born and raised in Dallas, and although I have lived here for the last 27 years, I was completely unaware of the way in which this neighborhood close to Fair Park has been revitalized over the last five years or so. It was amazing to see how Jubilee has been transformed from a place with high crime rate in which most people would not want to live into a caring community of neighbors and volunteers. Our group participated by working one on one in the free ESL classes, we worked in the community garden, and we helped organize the library. At the end of the day, we came back home with smiles on our faces and a feeling that we would happily return to Jubilee again. One student picked up a brochure about helping out with Jubilee’s summer program, and I am going to arrange for my Spanish students to communicate via Skype with the ESL students at Jubilee. I am extremely proud to work in a school where we are encouraged to interrupt our regular daily activities and go out into the community to help others. Thanks to Sally Rosenberg for making this happen year after year!

Eve Hill-Agnus, in her first year as a member of the English Department, wrote about her day at The Stewpot:

On Community Service Day, I was part of a group that volunteered at the Stewpot, a center that supports the homeless in Dallas. We got the service part down. We formed a bustling assembly line that, in a single hour, stuffed 300 backpacks with toiletries, creating “gift-bags” that would be distributed at an upcoming event for the homeless. At lunch, we served 600 trays of macaroni salad and sandwiches and canned fruit at The Bridge nearby. When we left, the Stewpot’s volunteer coordinator, a woman with more energy than any of us, thanked us warmly. And of course we hope our service mattered in some way.

But it’s not what we did that was most striking for me. Our time at the Stewpot plunged us into a community made up of homeless clients who have, in some cases, known each other for more years than our students have been alive—and veteran volunteers who have done much more than we could on a single day of service. In a place that’s all about transience, I was struck by all the evidence of continuity.

What crystallized this most was the service we attended for the homeless who have passed away in the last year. The coinciding of these two annual events—their event of community, our event of service—was pure chance. We were outsiders, listening to the reading of names we couldn’t recognize, in an event marked by the specialness of ritual and ceremony. It was also unfolding in the midst of ordinary life. In one corner, a sleeping man snored loudly. In another corner, one man gave another a haircut, his electric razor buzzing softly through the service’s songs and speeches. This was all part of the picture. The whole scene took place in the Stewpot’s main room, whose walls are lined with charcoal drawings of the Stewpot homeless—fifty-two faces captured by the deft hand of a volunteer who came every week for a year and drew a different portrait each visit. I know a number of students left with the intention of returning later on their own to volunteer. I wonder if it’s the nature of the service that appealed to them, or the sense of community—or something else entirely.

Mary and Eve hit upon one of the enduring results of Community Service Day – the opportunity to forge long-lasting bonds with the agencies and their clients. Our students and faculty put real muscle behind their efforts of Community Service Day and can point at many, many completed jobs. But, remember, the heart is a muscle too.

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