Accidental Beginnings

It all started very much by accident. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently pursuing the Visionary Leaders Certificate that N.C. State students can complete by accomplishing a number of tasks (I like to say tasks because it reminds me of Harry Potter, and that makes everything more fun). These are all simple enough–attend ten Leadership Development Seminars, prepare a portfolio of reflections on what you’ve learned and how you’ve applied it, write a page about your involvement on campus, and then defend your portfolio before a panel of judges more terrifying than a Hungarian Horntail (well, maybe not that bad)–but, wait, I forgot one.

Oh, yes. It’s the question that started everything. Community Service.

The application form online stated that students must complete twenty hours of community service. That’s delightful, I thought, but how would they like it presented? And what precisely would they consider community service?

With these questions I walked up the round building and found the first open CSLEPS office to ask. The woman there was quite delightful, and whether she knows or not, she set me in a direction that would change my N.C. State experience entirely–and remember, this is still only my first semester there.

To answer my first question, she said no proof of purchase was necessary–that is, whatever hours I said I did, they would trust I had done them. (It dawned on my very quickly it wouldn’t be difficult to lie about these twenty hours, but just as quickly it also occurred to me that anyone going through the effort to actually achieve this certificate isn’t likely to be one for lying.) On the one hand, this was relieving; on the other hand, it still left me to wonder how I would amass twenty hours when I’m landlocked on campus.

So came my second question: If I did community service with a student organization (because those I belong to often do), could that count toward my certificate? Sadly, she told me, that would be considered campus involvement, not specifically community service. But! she went on, have you heard about Stop Hunger Now?

I said I had not, and so she explained to me that every fall N.C. State partners with Stop Hunger Now to package meals to feed the hungry around the world–and each meal costs only twenty-five cents! When November rolled around and I attended the event, I had so much fun–and it influenced me tremendously, but I’ve not yet found the appropriate words with which to share this experience and so I have yet to do so (but, trust me, I will).

And! she added, have you heard about ASB? “ASB”? Association of Snake Bearers? Applications of Standard Biology? Alliance of Southern Belles? No, no, and most definitely not. ASB stands for Alternative Service Break, which is sometimes written Alternative Spring Break, so I’m really not certain which is the proper… anti-acronym (what else would you call the words belonging to an acronym–rather, forgive me, an initialism–like this one?).

(On an aside, I happen to think Alternative Service Break is correct, but people throw in “spring” to make it clear it occurs during spring break, as if that somehow wouldn’t be clear on its own, maybe?)

She turned her computer toward me and showed me the page for the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service (CSLEPS, the ones who organize all of this–from the certificate program to ASB and beyond) and pointed me to the different trips offered, telling me the application deadline was drawing near.

The point of showing me was not to give me a free vacation (because it is neither a vacation nor free), but to show me an opportunity for not picking up one or two or even three hours of community service, but all twenty and then some in a single go–and, she said, the trip to Guatemala on women’s issues really needs more men to attend.

The next day (or perhaps right around the weekend–the calendar escapes me) I attended a mandatory interest meeting to which all applicants had to attend. The information session happened also to fall on September 11, which only made my first step to going on this trip even more serious–it’s a solemn day for everyone who witnessed the towers crashing down eleven years ago, and with the weight of all those lost souls pressing down upon me, I felt more compelled than ever before to do something for those who I can help in memory of all those who my help simply could not reach.

So as I listened to the descriptions of what happens on each of the trips, I took copious notes about all the ones I might be interested in–and not just for the hours, mind you, but for the impact I could create. I could learn about cacao growing and Fair Trade in Belize, or I could to Guatemala to learn about women’s issues that aren’t just local, but experienced worldwide. In Nicaragua I could build water tanks while learning about the scarcity of fresh water, and in Costa Rica I could work on sustainability and conservation while being immersed in the importance of eco-tourism. There were trips in the United States–such as educational challenges in Alaska–and there were trips straight to the other side of the world–like the trip I was most passionate about, a new trip to Uganda focusing on HIV/AIDS, but which I knew immediately was far beyond my affordability.

I walked away feeling eager and enthusiastic and not alone because of the trips–more so even simply for the goals of the program: To experience diversity and culture beyond those we already know; to gain a global focus on issues that affect the human population; and to understand the meaning of privilege, especially our unearned privilege.

This last one I will certainly talk about more in the future, but since it wasn’t very clear to me then what it truly means to be underprivileged, it would be wrong of me to elaborate now on that distinction. Indeed, I’m not sure if I could even do so sufficiently right now–but after I come back, certainly I shall understand what it means to be privileged.

When I started writing this, I had a very clear goal in mind: To bring you through my application and to let you see precisely why I’m so eager and excited for this trip, and why I am trying so hard to raise enough money to help me afford it, but with over a thousand words behind us already, I’ve said enough today. I’ve brought you all into ASB just like I was brought into it myself, and next time I write about it, I will draw extensively from my application–and then you’ll see not only my interest, but also my passion.

Until then, I feel obligated not by want but by need to mention my ChipIn fundraiser to help me cover about a third of what it’ll cost to go to Belize. I know firsthand what it’s like to have no money to give, and so I only ask for what you’re able to contribute and nothing more–but every little bit helps tremendously. I know I shall grow tired of asking long before my fundraiser ends on January 31, for there are few things I detest doing more than asking others for money, but each donation will bring you my unending gratitude–and although I’ve no definite plans at the moment, seeing that PayPal saves every donor’s shipping and/or email addresses, I’m going to do my best to create something special to help share my experience with each and every donor in a way far beyond just reading about it here.

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