Sunday, March 23, 2014

No One Said It Would Be Easy

I became employed as a 1st-year college mentor by my school, and that's when I realized no-one really knows what's going on during their first semester/year at a new school. And while this may seem normal it's really a psychological societal problem that our institutions and that we have to take responsibility for. People, especially young people on college campuses, should never feel alone, because they aren't. Making friends, talking to strangers, conversation with teachers, joining clubs, and getting to know your community, including the people... should not be as challenging as it is, or as awkward as we all make it. Getting to know shallow people and finding beer is not a complicated goal to achieve when you’re on any college campus, but I don't want that. I didn't when I turned ASU down and I still don't want to go to school to get drunk and in trouble. College should be about getting good grades and meeting people that stimulate your brain, help you question your perspective, and rock your personal library of vocabulary. Why is this so much for a twenty-two year old to ask for?!

One day, I was walking to a class on campus and noticed a small bulletin board that shouted out to me, "WANT TO TRAVEL TO SAN DIEGO?". It was a flyer about an information meeting. I attended the meeting, and shortly after that I found myself signed up and selected to be one of the fourteen CU Denver students selected to travel to San Diego for a weeklong volunteer trip over winter break. This trip was a big deal to me. I was eighteen at the time, and I had never seen the ocean, I'd never been on a plane, and I'd never left my home state, Colorado.

When we landed in San Diego, we loaded onto a shuttle bus, and unpacked our sleeping bag in a big community church just up the street from San Diego State University. While everyone ate pizza, and when no one noticed, I slipped out the door and climbed up to the rooftop of the church. Sitting up there on day one of the volunteer trip, I had no idea that getting involved with my school like this would allow me to meet my future study abroad roommate, who I spent a month and a half with in South Korea six months after coming home from San Diego, my old boss who hired me for the job as a college mentor for freshmen students, and my current boss who I am working with as an election commissioner for student government at CU. Just going to that one meeting, that oh so awkward meeting, stepping out of my comfort box for a total of like 3 hours, led to such amazing opportunities. Do all the music majors that I couldn’t vibe with know about volunteering!? 

Getting involved was really not even that hard now that I look at the situation in hindsight; it was really only ever a matter of making sure I picked something I really wanted to pursue and wouldn't just blow off. Anyone can get involved at anytime! But the longer you procrastinate, the longer it will take you to begin building a foundation of integrity in your life, in a social way where you're allowed to meet and humbly serve people. 

A couple of years after my first volunteer trip, I saw another flyer advertising an opportunity to plan and lead the same kind of trip I attended in San Diego. This was a job opening for students. I applied and got accepted several days later. The school paid for an extensive leadership training program for the selected trip planners, and through that training I learned a lot about the behind the scenes work that goes into planning a trip. 

During our training we were shown the active citizen continuum. This beautifully well done graph shows it's readers that everyone is a citizen, but not everyone is a volunteer. The difference between a citizen and a volunteer is a matter of hope and education. The citizen does not believe things can get better by people coming together, or if they do believe such is possible, they don't believe anything they could ever do would actually help or make a difference in anyway. The volunteer on the other hand knows the potential of an individual, believes their time makes a difference, but does not really understand the bigger picture of why they volunteer, or why they help out with the tasks they do. A volunteer is great, very important, and they help thousands of communities across the nation, but while they are perhaps more educated than your average citizen, they are not very well aware of greater levels of business, economics, sociology, public health, environmental science, etc.. 

Unlike a volunteer, an active citizen, not only knows their actions help, but they know how what they do helps. Active citizens are educated and well aware of the bigger picture. These individuals even take an extra step of coming up for themselves new ideas of how they can help their community, rather than just reporting to and obeying someone in a chain-of-command like system. A volunteer may come by to help out at the hospital once a week, or on some determined schedule, but a true active citizen breathes, sleeps, eats, and truly lives for activism and betterment for all people, everyday, all-day.

Not everyone can have the desire to be an active citizen, and we certainly can not make anyone be one either, but after school programs that teach children at an early age the benefits of helping others and volunteering within a community, is an easily achievable and very rewarding goal, that our public needs to seriously consider integrating into school curriculum, at all levels of education. 

Volunteering was the one thing I needed in my life, but I didn't know that I needed it when I started college. I was scared, it was awkward, and not always pleasant. But volunteering is about serving others, putting yourself last, living in the moment, sometimes through another person's eyes, and it’s about learning how to develop character. No one said it would be easy, but I'm telling you... it'll be so worth it.