I had the privilege of spending my 2012 spring break in North Philadelphia with the New Century College (NCC) Center for Leadership Studies' Alternative Break program volunteering with a community organization and tutoring kids after school. We had the opportunity to engage with the community, serve, and above all else, learn.
People often make the mistake of approaching service with an air of ignorance and pride - a dangerous combination. Inaccurate beliefs that you are going to "save" people during a short trip, or that the people you are serving are somehow less than you, have no place in an effective service-learning trip. At pretrip meetings, our team members were reminded that we were not raised in this particular community and we should remain humble and ready to learn from our experiences. This was especially important to remember when working with kids. When a five-year-old cursed at me during a tutoring session, I was initially shocked. But rather than label her a "bad child," I realized that the circumstances in which she was being raised were vastly different from my own experience. I was there to support this community, not to judge it.
Inner-city Philadelphia was certainly a new experience for my team and me. By staying humble and ready to learn, we had the opportunity to grow. At the end of our stay, we said goodbye to the incredible people we had met, leaving the community as colearners and better people because of our experiences there.
October 22, 2012