Over this past spring break, I had this amazing opportunity to travel to Northern California with 25 brilliantly hardworking people to work on wildfire relief and advocate for sustainability. In the months leading up to this trip, we attended weekly meetings where we were educated on the true meaning of service and the difference between intent and impact.
It was during this process that my entire perspective on why I serve changed.
During one of our meetings, we read an article that explained why the words "serving" and "helping/fixing" are entirely different. It was this sole article that absolutely rattled my previous beliefs. Using the words "helping" and "fixing" means there is a problem that needs to be solved. The mission is for one to go in, get the job done, and leave feeling fulfilled that that work has been completed.
However, service is so much more than this.
Service is a completely selfless act. Service is not something one does just to add it to their resumé; it is not something that we do in order to solely make ourselves feel good. Service can be awkward, difficult, and even emotional. Service is putting others before ourselves and complying to what they need the most. Sometimes, this does not involve the stereotypical aspects of "volunteering" at all. Sometimes, no leaves are raked and no trash is picked up. Rather, service is about making connections. Service is spending hours lending an ear to someone that just needs to talk about the tragedies they have faced. Service is holding someone's hand as they go through a difficult time.
Service is not counted in hours spent doing work, but it is counted by the impact made on someone else's life.
One day during our week, we had the chance to meet with a few families whose homes had been destroyed in the fires that raged through a little neighborhood called Coffey Park. Driving through Coffey Park, one may think this area was simply a fresh new development, for it was filled with block after block of new homes being built. However, this was not the case at all. Close to 1,500 homes were burnt to the ground during the California wildfires, and almost all homeowners were choosing to rebuild right on the same grounds. Although we did not partake in the actual rebuilding of these homes, my group still served that afternoon. We were there to simply show these families that we cared about them and that we wanted to hear about their journey. And, let me tell you, the smiles on their faces when they found out we had come all the way from Rhode Island is something that I will never forget.
By just being present, we were able to make a positive impact on these people's lives; they were able to see that they had a support system bigger than they ever could have imagined.
Although the hands-on parts of volunteering are excruciatingly important, the world still needs those willing to put in more than just physical labor into their service. Every person has the ability to make changes, and every action counts for something. However, let's all just try to ensure that they are counting for all of the right reasons.