I have had many experiences of service in my life that were just “okay.” Some of them I did because I needed service hours for a class, some of them I did because I thought I would like them- and didn’t, and some of them were just unsatisfying for whatever reason. Thankfully though, there is a “type” of service out there for everyone. I believe that there is a kind of service for everyone in this world.
The service experience that sticks out for me the most was when I was a peer mentor in high school. I know I’ve talked about it before in SERVE essays and journals, but that is because I loved it so much and am so thankful that I was given the opportunity to serve in that way, especially in high school. The peer mentors would work with the students in our school’s “Options Program” for kids with severe special needs. Over the years, I got to work with a lot of different students in the program, but in my junior and senior year I got to work a lot more with this one girl in the program who was in my class. Over time our relationship evolved from that of mentor and mentee to a real friendship.
She had social and learning disabilities, but she also had a physical disability that made it hard to walk and she either had to use a walker or her scooter to get around. I would walk with her to class and the classes we walked to together were in a hallway of the school that was unfortunately not wheelchair accessible from the inside. So we would go all around the school in whatever weather. Sometimes getting her scooter over a little bump in the doorframe and out the door was a struggle and she would get really frustrated and start crying loudly. This would happen when she would get frustrated about other things too. Sometimes I knew what to say to console her. A lot of times I didn’t and the other kids that were in the hallway would just look at us. That was one of the hard parts about working with her- the uncertainty of how she would react to things and how to handle it.
One of the classes I worked with her in was our Practical Law class. One day we were doing a mock trial and she volunteered to play one of the roles. I think she was the judge. I can’t remember if she made a joke or if someone else said it and she just thought it was funny, but she started laughing the most joyful laugh. And she looked all the way across the room straight at me. It was like she wanted me to share in her joy. That moment made all of the difficult ones feel worth it. Those were the moments that she built her trust in me. And then when she was experiencing joy she wanted to share it with me because she trusted and respected me. It was very humbling and I definitely felt alive in that moment.
Another moment I can remember “feeling alive” rather unexpectedly was when I volunteered at a homeless shelter near my house. My youth group from my church was cooking and serving dinner and playing with the kids there for the night. I got assigned to chopping radishes for the salad. That sounds pretty boring, but as I got into it, I found that I was really enjoying it. I must have been stressed out about something at the time, because I remember it being very calming- therapeutic even. After I was done chopping radishes, I was making sandwiches for the next day.
I have also enjoyed stacking chairs after event for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed setting up my pool for swim meets. I have enjoyed service that relates to construction. I went on a Habitat trip about a month ago and went to WorkCamp with my church the past two summers. I have enjoyed painting, cleaning and building things. I have found it so rewarding to learn new skills from these construction service trips.
All of these events relate because I really like the kind of service where I can see progress over time. When you are setting up or cleaning up from an event, chopping radishes or painting a wall you can physically see the progress. You also feel very productive because you are physically making things happen through your work. My work as a peer mentor was not primarily physical labor (although sometimes it was since she needed things carried, doors opened, a helping hand to walk down the stairs, etc…), but I was able to see progress over time. I worked with her in classes that lasted a whole semester and I was with her everyday. I got to witness her progress in her classes, my progress in becoming a better mentor to her and our progress in becoming friends. I know not all meaningful service opportunities will provide the opportunity to witness progress, but this does point me in a good direction when choosing service opportunities. This also tells me that I would feel more alive in my service if I choose some service opportunity to work with for an extended period of time so that I would be able to see progress.