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Community Service is something a lot of individuals get involved in with hopes of making a positive impact and giving back to our local communities. Often times, we underestimate the effect community service can have on our lives. It is an experience that can lead us to discover new passions, learn about new issues, make significant friendships, and engage with communities and individuals different from ourselves. Getting involved in various service opportunities has enabled me to interact with different populations of individuals. Every project reminds me of the value of embracing diversity and how much growth one can experience through these encounters.
It is so fulfilling to engage with communities you do not usually interact with; you are able to learn about these populations and develop a new perspective toward your own life. During the summer of 2016, I was involved in a college access program in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I traveled to a state I had never been to before with teaching fellows from all over the country. In this program I was able to work with and teach many Latino and Native American individuals. As a Mexican-American, I was excited to be with other Latinos since the Latino population in New Mexico is much larger than that in Delaware. However, I had never interacted with Native American communities before. I was a bit nervous before the first interactions because I realized I did not know enough about their cultures, traditions, or experiences. After this service experience however, I learned a lot of valuable information and I felt as if a blindfold had been taken off my eyes. My service activity in Santa Fe enabled direct contact with a new community and as a result, I was involved in one of the most memorable experiences I have ever done.
When you engage in service in new areas, or with populations different than yourself, it is essential to be your genuine self. You are not expected to be an expert about the population you are working with. Instead, it is better to be honest about what you do and do not know, and to be willing to learn and grow through the experience. This approach will make this experience more welcoming and successful for you and those you are working with. It is also important to be respectful of any differences. Lastly, explore a balance between staying true to yourself and being open-minded.
Article by Nicole Mejia. Nicole is a junior elementary education major with a concentration in teaching English as a second language from New Castle, Delaware. In addition to being a Community Engagement Ambassador, she is involved with HOLA, Diversity Enrichment Leaders, A.S.P.I.R.E. and Campus Alliance de La Raza.