Mindfulness In Our Methods

When the Harkness Travel Program trips were announced last week at school meeting, I noticed that there were two new community service trips: Appalachia: Fair Trade Learning and Guatemala: Service and Exploration.

When the Harkness Travel Program trips were announced last week at school meeting, I noticed that there were two new community service trips: Appalachia: Fair Trade Learning and Guatemala: Service and Exploration. The Appalachia trip will allow Lawrentians to participate in sustainable service learning in Williamston, West Virginia, and work on projects that promote sustainability and community health. In Guatemala, students will live with local families and work with God’s Child Project to construct a house, serve meals in a homeless shelter, and play with elementary school children. The important thing to note about both trips is that they have built-in reflection periods for Lawrentians to think about what they have done, whether it be through conversations and questions or the application of the things they have learned. As Lawrenceville continues to rethink community service,with recent changes such as switching from solely hourly requirements to the Lawrenceville Community Action Project’s (LCAP) one time event credits, it’s important to remember the value of reflection. Reflecting on our service should be an integral part of community work because it allows students to consider the impacts of their work on both the communities and themselves. While Lawrenceville’s community service requirement has shifted from fulfilling a certain number of hours to the current LCAP requirement, community service should be still seen as more than just a few one-time events to complete or something to be checked off a list. Working with your community is a voluntary act done to build relationships and enact change, and it involves truly engaging with the community in question and striving to understand it. The term community service can imply an unequal relationship of giving; perhaps we as a community should rally behind the usage of the term community engagement, rather than community service. Engaging with our surrounding communities doesn’t simply have to be one-sided in nature; it can also be a two-sided arrangement. Those who provide aid can also build a foundation of knowledge to benefit future interactions. It’s a relationship built from forming bonds with the people and communities around us, being open to learning new skills, and opening your mind to new worldviews.

Reflection on community service allows students to broaden their perspectives and develop a mindset of growth and learning. From continuous and genuine engagement with community members, students can expand their worldviews and become more conscious and cognizant about the world they live in. Community service goes beyond a simple transaction of one side providing aid to the other. Learning from past experiences, students should strive to become more mindful and understanding global citizens with increased empathy and comprehension of the issues affecting members of a community. The impact of community service does not end with the conclusion of your engagement with the community; the experiences and growth you undergo will reach far beyond the length of your volunteer work.

Although some may argue that the resources can be better utilized in the form of direct donations rather than bringing students to locations or funding service trips, it’s important to recognize the value of an interpersonal form of service. Albeit, in areas of dire poverty, monetary funds are certainly more beneficial, where they can be given to agents far more suited for change. However, in many cases, community service in person allows a far deeper level of understanding and aid than a simple monetary gift which allows depth in the solution to an issue and also experience for further aid.

The importance of reflection in community service doesn’t have to be a mandated activity, where time is allotted and worksheets are filled out. Rather, it’s the mindset of our actions that is important. A common criticism of hourly graduation requirements in community service is that it merely quantifies a process that is meant to be much more than just hours in a spreadsheet. Ultimately, the goal in community service is not just to log hours, but to serve as a spark for further initiative in the community. In the long term, we end up creating more change in creating individuals who commit to service rather than singular acts of service.

So, the next time you decide to engage with the community, do not view it as a requirement or a burden. Take time to think about what you are trying to do, and involve yourself in your community and the communities around you. Whether you travel to Guatemala to build a house or serve meals at your local soup kitchen, take the time to learn and reflect on the complexity and depth of the issues in these communities. Engaging with a community is an unending process, a continuous and equal exchange between two parties, and something we should hold to the utmost importance.

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