THE JOY OF SERVICE: 2018 Service Immersion Experience
The following post was written by guest blogger Samantha Avanzino, Fraternity Engagement Specialist for the Fraternity.
Early in the new year, 16 collegians and three alumnae from all over North America met in New Orleans, Louisiana, for Alpha Gam’s second annual Service Immersion Experience. Having never met before, we embarked together on a week of learning, serving and growing together as sisters.
While some members of our group had been on a service trip before, we knew this one was different. One, it was educational, as we spent a good portion of our initial time in New Orleans understanding the culture and history of the city. From viewing the spot where the Battle of New Orleans occurred exactly 203 years from the day we visited, to seeing the levees that broke in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, we grew to understand and admire the city before our volunteer experience began. Our true immersion to New Orleans allowed us to understand how our service played a part in the city’s story. Armed with this knowledge, we were better equipped to understand the wonderful men and women we would interact with throughout the week.
Our first volunteer project was with the Arc of New Orleans Mardi Gras Recycling Center, an organization which focuses on providing jobs and services to persons with developmental disabilities while also helping the environment.
Did you know approximately two million pounds of beads are imported into New Orleans for Mardi Gras each and every year? Last year they collected, sorted and repackaged more than 250,000 pounds of beads to be resold for future parades. This recycling initiative significantly reduces the amount of waste going into the landfill. The sale of the beads provides funds for much needed services for the organization’s clients. We sorted more than 4,000 lbs. of beads in one day!
The next day we had the opportunity to #FightHunger in the New Orleans community by volunteering with Giving Hope Food Pantry. Some of our group spent the morning preparing more than 500 meals for seniors in the area while others prepared for the clients who would shop in the food pantry later that afternoon.
Through partnerships with major groups such as Feeding America and Wal-Mart, Giving Hope is able to provide groceries and hot meals to the public five days a week. In one month alone, they had almost 3,000 walk-in clients who received food. As a part of their service, clients are able to select the foods they want to put in their box, allowing them to have the experience of shopping instead of receiving a preselected box of things they may or may not want or need. This growing trend among food pantries helps preserve dignity for those struggling with food insecurity.
“There are some things you can never understand until you experience them first hand. I witnessed prejudice, poverty and communal upset in ways that I never had before. Seeing the people who live through these struggles helped change my perspective. I realized that I can always do more and continue fighting for those who can’t.”—Abbi Epperson, Epsilon Kappa—Pittsburg State University
Our third day of service found us at Love in Action, another food pantry organization in New Orleans. They serve more 2,400 families each month and have distributed more than 2.5 million lbs. of food to those in the area. Each pantry serves a different part of town and each have their own priorities and passions.
Love in Action provides an assortment of shelf stable food and clothing, as well as fresh meat, dairy and produce. It was enlightening to see how the different pantries served their communities in different ways.
“This trip showed me the value of everyday service which is community oriented. Too often, we get caught in the cycle of ‘big service’ where we give our time once or twice a year in a big way. Through Service Immersion Week, I learned that we should listen to what our community needs and work to create an impact in everyday life,”—Emily Buice, Beta Eta— Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
On the fourth day, our group split up in order to serve two different areas of need.
One group headed to the home of a senior citizen who was impacted by Hurricane Katrina and was in need of some painting that she was unable to do on her own. Sisters spent all day taping walls, painting them with bright colors and making sure her house felt like a home.
The other group of sisters worked with Catholic Workers, and organization “committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken.”
Each group had a different experience of service that day, but—by coming together at the end of the night—they were able to share in their experiences and gain a greater understanding of the full scope of impact.
Each night after dinner, we all gathered together to talk about experience that day and reflect on our time in New Orleans. Serving the people of the community provoked deep conversations when we wrapped up each day. Through guided discussion, we talked about privilege, social justice and other factors that can impact the lives of others. These actions and discussions helped us grow as sisters and as leaders. When everyone went back to their own campus they had a deeper understanding of the need for service.
On our final day, we toured the cemetery grounds in the heart of the city. New Orleans has a unique culture when it comes to cemeteries, and we were able to learn even more about the city’s rich history.
We spent the afternoon preparing and sharing passion projects. Collegiate sisters were asked questions related to impacting the world in their own communities, spent time reflecting on their experience and wrote down how they could create positive social change.
“The most rewarding part of the Service Immersion Experience was hearing everyone share their passion projects. Not only could you see the passion in their eyes and hear it in their voice, you could feel just how inspired our sisters are to impact the world through each project.”—Katie Roe, Epsilon Chi—Kansas State University
The focus of each project was as unique as each of the women on the trip. They included metal health support, support for foster animals, providing better investment options for women and more. Each of us were inspired by the stories each sister shared and provided ideas and resources for them to continue their project when they returned home.
After a rewarding week together, we headed to the airport and were sad to depart one another. We may have only met earlier that week, but we formed connections that will last a lifetime. Many of us have already started planning reunions and discussing how we can continue to inspire one another to implement our passion projects back in our own communities. This week showed us the importance of teamwork and giving back to our community.
Through the generous support of the Alpha Gamma Delta Foundation, and its donors, we are better equipped to inspire and impact the world.
Fraternity Engagement Specialist
Delta Omicron—University of Nevada, Las Vegas