For five days, I had the privilege of doing community service right before school started, and my entire college experience is changed for it. The first few opening days of college have been interesting, but without the community service I did and the friends I made it would have been so much harder, and to be honest, I may not be the person I am. I was in Willamette University’s Service, Leadership, & Sustainability Jump Start program, and it changed the course of my first year at college for the better.
First off, I made the kind of friends I never would have imagined I could have. They are the most incredible group of people I know, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a part of a group, a welcomed addition that without would change the group dynamic. I have been accepted, looked after, encouraged to try new things, but more importantly, I also haven’t; my newfound “squad” leaves me to be my own person and doesn’t force me to do anything. These friends are quickly becoming my support group, and as someone who has always been a bit of an outsider, it feels good to be in.
Secondly, being with this group of people has changed the way I view humanity, and on a slightly lesser scale, my generation and peers here at Willamette. I remember it was a hot day, at least upper 90s, and my SLS group was shoveling, raking, and sweeping wood chips over two entire playgrounds. I had been working for maybe an hour and a half, just constantly raking a mountain of sawdust taller than me into a mountain that, no matter how hard I tried, was still bigger than I. I was exhausted, when my friend offered to take over raking so I could sweep around and take a break for a while. At first I thought he was joking. I can’t honestly remember the last time someone my own age saw me working hard and genuinely offered to help. So I laughed, thinking it was silly that he would want to switch. But then, and I will never forget this, he looked me right in the face and said “no, I’m serious.” I’m sure I just stood there like a moron, just staring at him, and after a beat had passed I thanked him and switched. This may seem like a miniscule, over-dramatized detail, but to me it was important, because it made me stop and look around. It made me stop worrying about what I was doing and just look at the people around me, all working hard, none slacking or hiding from work, all giving compliments where due and help where needed. I was amazed at the generosity and work ethic in front of me, and the sincerity of it all. Here, I thought, were good people.
More than anything else, this experience has given me confidence. I remember coming into the program an introverted, pessimistic person who worked too hard because I thought no one else would. In many ways I am the same, but a fundamental block that restricted me from connecting with people has been lifted. I saw the good, I saw the work, I saw the beautiful intentions and the friendships bond. I no longer think of people in the same way I did, as purely selfish creatures with occasional acts of kindness. These were genuine people, and I can say without reservation that I trust these people in at least the respect they have for the work they and others do. I am no longer afraid of the silly things I was before, of judgment and cliques and reputations. This isn’t high school; it is thankfully immeasurably better.