A Letter to Franklin County Public Schools

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
The quote above comes from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. On my spring break trip for Alternative Service Breaks, we left that quote, along with many others, to the students of Terrell Lane Middle School. I remember it most because it exhibited what I saw most in the students and that was young children bursting with potential. And so I am writing this letter to Franklin County Schools.
Dear Franklin County Schools,
There is love at Terrell Lane Middle School. I have seen it firsthand. The teachers and administrators fill the halls with love. They brag about their students and they sacrifice so much for them. The students are closer than they think to achieving the goals the county has set for them. They believe in their school. I only spent a week at Terrell Lane and I don’t see the everyday motions. I was a guest, one who was happy to just have an invite into the school. I won’t pretend to know the whole story, but from what I saw Terrell Lane will be an example for all Franklin County Schools. With inconsistency in what teachers are present, and what extracurricular activities are present, Terrell Lane makes it work and they do it through their teachers. The guidance counselor who fills in for the secretary and the nurse because they only work three times a week. Terrell Lane keeps going because they have eighth grade teachers that go above and beyond. They stay late to host the bookstore and coach the track and field team. They come early to donate food to a group of college students that they’ve never met and more than anything is they care.  I’ll support a school like Terrell Lane and any legislation that makes the lives of the students and teachers any day.
Despite my belief in Terrell Lane, there is work to be done. Invest in learning. Test scores and pushing the idea of “sixty or better” on students can only do so much. Test scores show growth and can work to a certain extent, but forcing teachers to teach to pass places a cap on education. There’s a deep need for education reform all around the country. Finding ways to make the classroom a place where students can come alive. I struggled to ignore the feelings of taking on the “White Man’s Burden” and treating the north as a place of higher learning. However, we have to continue to be a presence in the classroom and empowering students to see different ideas of success. I write this to say invest in the students. Not just athletics, but the classroom. In resources that make school a launching pad to something great.
Best,
Devin Harvin

Tweaking a Post about Tweaking Vocational Goals

Several months ago, in January, I wrote another blog post the same weekend that I wrote “Granos de Mostaza” but I ended up posting the latter and keeping the former, perhaps saving it for another time. I feel that time is now.

I tweaked it a little and am posting it now because I feel that it is extremely relevant to me at this moment, especially this far into the semester when perseverance is important. It contains some reflections on my degree program. Also, I think my final conclusion to this post is more relevant to other areas of my life right now than ever.

So here is that blog post, with the run on sentences that reflect my nonlinear thinking and everything.

—- —- —- —- —- —- —- —–

During my meeting with Soren, I made a statement about myself that both did and did not surprise me: I honestly do not think I want to be an engineer after college.

Now, believe me, I love technology. I love science, and I love applying mathematical and scientific formulas, solving problems, designing systems, and developing algorithms to an extent.

But if I were to really ask myself about my motivations for this career and major, I will admit I feel as though my family pushed me towards this degree. That, and I was convinced that this was what I truly, genuinely wanted.

This semester was the first semester in my entire college career where I genuinely enjoy all my classes (Upon reflection after reading this right now, in March, I can say that I no longer hold this sentiment). I am finished with all of the core curriculum. I am finally able to make what I want of my Computer Engineering degree program. I can take various different electives and choose a focus. As a freshman, I was convinced I wanted to design circuits. As a sophomore, I realized I hated electromagnetism and liked coding, so I decided I’d probably go into software, much to the disappointment of my family. As of now, I really don’t even know if I want to do that either.

I actually had to write down a list of short term, medium term, and long term goals for myself as an assignment for one of my elective courses. As I looked back on them, I noticed that none of them had to explicitly do with engineering.

Engineering is great and I am not unhappy with the place I am in right now. This degree is robust and it allows me to fall into various fields after college – even including business, specifically nonprofit business, and ministry – two fields I genuinely want to fall into. If I can throw technology into there somehow, then that is wonderful. If I cannot do that, I genuinely cannot say I would be unhappy. Ideally there would be some technology involved, but if there wasn’t, that’s okay.

But what makes me feel alive – and yes, I am aware of how cliché Boston University-esque that sounds – is not engineering. It’s not in designing microprocessor directives or systems that I feel alive.

 

No, if I were to look back on the few weeks this semester where I came alive,

it was when a freshman student who also lives in the engineering house asked for advice on his semester schedule, knowing that I was a former advisor,

and I gave him my opinions,

and some advice,

and then I questioned some of the decision making processes that led to his course load,

and why he made strides and caused various conflicts in order to be in those specific classes,

and then we discussed the purpose of our course choices and what we think matters,

and further down the road of this conversation we discussed what was meaningful to us,

and our sentiments towards jobs and time investment,

and our values,

and we discussed whether money is the point,

and the value of community,

and a variety of other ideas,

and at some point he told me he was happy we had this conversation,

and I ended up giving him one of the books from my personal library titled How to be Here by Rob Bell, as I felt it might give him some insight and help his perspective grow a little bit more.

 

It was every time I found myself reading the words of Paul Tillich,

or Martin Luther King Jr.,

or Peter Rollins,

or Donald Miller,

or any of the other thinkers’ and writers’ insights on meaning, identity, and justice that I have read. It was in reading those words that I have felt alive.

It was in the conversations I had earlier with my friend at the BU Pub a couple of hours ago,

and how, although he and I have vastly different perspectives, there’s some good in seeing life through other lenses,

where we discussed human nature,

and how it’s absolutely hilarious how quickly many of us – myself oftentimes included – find that we are not living in the present moment,

and we somehow think that, once we achieve this goal, or get in that relationship, or pass this class, only then will we finally be happy,

and whether we should appeal to the better natures of our fellow humans despite the hatred and divisions existing nowadays,

and whether the people we often view as evil might actually have a little good in them that can be awoken as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described in the divisions of good and evil being sliced between every individual’s heart,

and whether it’s worth it to try to appeal lovingly to those we often find ourselves against.

It was there that I felt alive.

 

It was in the Sunday service, where I find enjoyment in being a part of wonderful rituals that pull meaning into my life and fuel the light I carry with me in the midst of storms and trials,

and I get to be a part of the community and help in community development,

and I get to read to everyone,

and write a prayer that recites reflections from the Bible and from Carl Sagan,

and, like, it’s my job as an intern. How cool is that?

 

And so, I am fairly certain of a few things regarding goals.

My very messy faith and religious identity drive me and I do want to do something that involves that in the future – whether it’s in a church or a religious nonprofit, who knows? I feel as though I would love to do either.

I also know that I do someday hope to have a loving family of my own and be a loving father.

Other than those two things, I really don’t think I have any large goals, and *gasp* I don’t think I want to be an engineer at least in the traditional sense. And, well, that’s okay.

Even if I have spent the past two and half years attempting to convince myself that’s what I wanted, it’s okay to just now finally realize that I was wrong. Like the many incremental mistakes that Thomas Edison made in inventing the lightbulb, so to can I make many incremental mistakes in finding my way through the messiness of life and inventing and reinventing my goals and ideal future. It’s a fun journey.

And all I had to do was genuinely ask myself what I really wanted and not obsess over what I felt others wanted for me or perhaps what others thought of my decisions.

To My Friend

Today I would like to take the time to appreciate my fellow Marsh Associate and friend Ian Quillen. He informed me a while ago that he got into all the graduate schools that he had applied to. This includes Northwestern and Vanderbilt. I would just like to say how proud of him that I am.

He has always been such a good friend to me since I came to Boston University.  I came last year during the spring semester. Ian took me under his wing and constantly made sure that I was doing well and was adapting well to college life. He has been a major part in my development and college career.

He is also a role model and poster child for working hard. If you want to see what I mean just ask him to show you his course schedule. When I asked him about having senioritis he responded with “I don’t have time for that.” That really shows the kind of person that he is. Very devoted.

Yet, the best thing about him: you would not know about any of his accomplishments unless you asked him. He is not the slightest bit conceited. He is about as far from the word as possible. Maybe he just ‘doesn’t have time for that’ either. But I doubt it.
Marsh will not be the same without him next year. But one thing is for sure, no matter where he goes he will be successful. Whether in Chicago or Nashville he will be successful. I am proud of him no matter what decision he makes and am glad I have gotten to know him and work with him. I am proud to be his friend.

– no one knows me like the piano & more life –

It has been a tough week post spring break. I had a transformative time on ASB, but since then I have felt out of whack. My phone cracked, my mac died after fighting a good fight for six years and I calculated all the debt that I will graduate with and the amount of time it would take to pay it off.  Combined with just feeling off my game, this past week has been painful. Nonetheless, this is college and there is no time for that. You get 30 minutes and then you have to bounce back or at least portray that you did. You have to commit yourself to creating an image of happiness or lack of worries. No one tells you about this part of college. The middle of semester and you’re just not feeling it. It’s not the clubs and many obligations or even the lack of sleep some nights. No one prepares you for the simple idea of just not feeling it. Not feeling the routine feeling off class then work and then a club meeting and not being surprised by the next day. I think we all feel it at some point regardless of age, it is real.

I thought long and hard and then I moved on, as I’m supposed to do. I’ve been making a more conscious effort to enjoy being human but there is much more work to be done.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

The slides were beginning to blur and lose focus as I looked at them. Although I was listening, my professor’s voice seemed more distant than usual. And the light falling onto the projector screen, normally only a minor nuisance, was becoming incredibly distracting.

Maybe it was because I was still recovering from jag lag. Gaining an hour then losing it again around daylight savings time certainly hadn’t helped, to be sure. It probably didn’t help that I hadn’t gotten much sleep the two nights prior, either. Maybe it was my realization that I had so many tasks to be done for my thesis. Or it could have been the paper that nagged at the back of my mind, which had to be written for this Friday that I had only just started.

Whatever the constellation of factors were, I knew that I was reaching my limit. The limit where external pressures became so heavy they started seeping through my boundaries. The limit where once it’s crossed, I begin to shut down–and the time it takes to recover and emerge again feels like a brief hibernation period.

When class ended, I made a snap decision. Actually, I had been considering it during the last 10 minutes of class, so maybe a more accurate description would be a “short-term decision.” As my favorite professor and I walked out of class, I had a request:

“This is going to sound strange, but…can you help me find a bench?”

“A bench?” he asked, a little perplexed.

“Yeah, a bench. Like a park bench.”

“Okay, I’m pretty sure there are some across the street. Why?”

“I’m not feeling that well…I need to sit down.”

I explained to my professor that I was stressed out, that I needed to sit down, that I was overwhelmed and starting to shut down. Not the most helpful strategy, I know, but it starts the recovery process when I don’t have many options left.

As we were walking out of CAS, he gave me some wisdom that at that moment, I needed to be reminded of:

“You should take things one step at a time. Dealing with lots of stress, that’s the cost of having such large brains, Ian.”

I replied, “That’s the cost of being human.”

I then asked him about a book whose title I had heard a long time ago: “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” I was trying to remember the author (for some reason I first thought it was Steven Pinker, the linguist), and my professor confirmed it was by Robert Sapolsky, a well-known neuroendocrinologist. We had just talked about him in class a few minutes before. As we were walking toward Sargent, I remembered what the book was about: the effects of chronic stress, a phenomenon that seems to be much more prevalent among humans compared to other animals. Unlike many animals, humans don’t always respond to stress with a fight-or-flight response. Instead, sometimes the stress builds to the point where it wears us down and starts affecting out health.

The last time I recall feeling this much internal stress had been in the fall semester of my junior year. Those months have been tinted in hindsight by many sleepless nights and a pervasive feeling of melancholy. Occasionally, that current was punctuated by points of other feelings, friendships and moments that flickered and glowed like warm embers. But those moments seemed few and far between then, even though I know that there were probably lots of them.

We had reached a bench. Parts of it were covered with snow, but it would do. My professor gestured with a sweep of his arm.

“All the benches you can choose from,” he said with a smile (I may have even caught a trace of a grin.) He then asked:

“Isn’t your dorm around here? Couldn’t you go rest there for a while?” I reflected, but could not come up with an answer.

“I’ll have to think about it.” I hesitated.

Then, with more concern, he asked:

“Are you going to be okay?”

“I’ll be okay,” I replied. Sincere, but uncertain. That was the best I could do.

I sat down on the bench, and my professor stood, turned toward me, and gave me his parting advice:

“Take one thing at a time. Don’t think of everything at once. Try not to stay out here in the cold too long. And get some rest.” Those were his words. Simple, practical wisdom–in other words, all that I could ask for from someone who has become a mentor that I look up to. My professor is rarely one to offer words of comfort, but he is certainly one to give words of practical wisdom. And with that wisdom comes a subtle kindness that I rarely see in people.

Looking back, I’m not quite sure how to describe that series of moments. I can describe my thoughts: surprisingly empty, given that I might have been about to shut down and withdraw for a while. I can describe what I sensed: a sunny day with students walking by and some snow still on the ground, with a cold wind blowing along the street. Finally, I can describe what I felt–a mix of stress, fatigue, and respect for the person I was talking to. Most of all, I can describe a sense of warmth that pervaded this interaction, from a simple exchange between a professor and one of his students. There was a small comfort in this warmth, a comfort that reminisced of seeing an ember crackle and spark in a fireplace. I don’t know what to make of this spark, but I do know that for a brief instant, it created a hearth. And near that hearth, the stress that until then had hung over me began to fade, like smoke lazily spiraling away. Perhaps there was a spark of the divine in that moment–it’s difficult to say. But for now, I am content with the fact that for a brief moment, that spark existed.

Double Dutch

Growing up, my cousins and I used to play double dutch. It was one of my favorite parts of our visits. If I close my eyes, I can hear the rhythmic pounding of rope and sneakers on  pavement, the echoes of the songs, and the sound of the beads in my braids bouncing in time. I enjoyed the rhythm, the quickness, competing against one another and ourselves. I loved the way it stretched across generations, we sang the songs our mothers taught us, which they had learned from their mothers. We were connected by blood and across time. Somewhere around seventh grade, we decided that jump rope was for the little kids and so we spent our time listening to the older kids conversations. I stowed my rope in my closet to be slowly covered by old cleats and school notebooks. Over our winter break, I was looking for something  in my closet and came across my dusty, frayed jump rope. It got me thinking about all the things I learned jumping with my cousins.

  • The quickly moving ropes can be scary, but take a breath and run in anyway.
  • Sometimes, your going to mess up, the rope will catch you mid-jump and pull you back down. It will be disappointing to stand there, a little winded, suddenly feeling the sting from the beads hitting your face and look down at the tangle of rope around your feet. Disentangling yourself will be frustrating, but do it, sort it through as quickly as possible and get ready for your next turn.
  • Everyone has a role to play. Success is only achieved when everyone is in harmony. The turners in sync, the jumper on time, the clapping on beat. This requires communication, understanding the slight nod between the turners as they increase speed, knowing the words in the songs that signal a shift in tempo or require a response. It also requires trust, in everyone else’s ability to do their job well. Harmony is earned.
  • Skill is important, but so is stamina. It doesn’t matter how many snazzy tricks you can do if you get tired after 30 seconds.
  • Find the rhythm and stick to it. The speed may change but the basic rhythm wont. Sometimes, my life feels like I’m jumping and the ropes are just flying faster and faster. It can be disorienting, but if I can remember to find the rhythm, I can comfortably keep up.

I’ve been reminded again this week that the lessons I learned from summer days with cousins and a tattered pink rope have sustained me throughout my life. They’ve taught me how to swallow fear and shrug off disappointment, how to find my rhythm in fast-paced quickly changing environments. They taught me to appreciate harmony and the people who help me do what I need to do. And they taught me some really fun rhymes.

 

 

 

 

What Makes Me Come Alive

I’ve done my fair share of programs and opportunities here at BU, but this past spring break I participated in my best experience at BU to date. I was a co-coordinator for Alternative Service Breaks and led a trip down to Louisburg, North Carolina to volunteer at Terrell Lane Middle School. While we had been preparing our trip since mid October, I had done little research about the actual community of Louisburg and Terrell Lane. Leaving North Carolina on Saturday night was hard to do. I fell in love with the community of Louisburg and how they welcomed 10 strangers into their home. The kids at Terrell Lane have so much potential despite the resources they need not being there. I had found a home at Terrell Lane for a week. The administrators raved about how awesome their kids were and the teachers played multiple roles throughout the school. I had never seen so much love in a school before.

While the idea of ASB makes me analyze privilege in so many different ways. I love what my group was able to accomplish. We left a legacy, but more importantly enforced the idea that the teachers and administrators will go to back for them. Louisburg is a community I would be honored to be apart of. It makes me think about the impact of presence and what a teacher in the classroom means. I’ll fight for those kids and kids like them and schools like them always. There potential is unmatched and they show love to everyone who enters their doors. ASB will have a special place in my heart and the “Tornadoes” of Terrell Lane will never be forgotten. Building relationships with my volunteers and learning more about our community partner were highlights of the trip. However, listening to the stories of  the students and adults in Louisburg makes it a place worth remembering.

While they have completely messed up my believed life plan, I am thankful for ASB and for Terrell Lane.

My Experience at Stop and Shop

Through my organizational behavior class I was able to interview corporate level management at the Stop and Shop Corporate Office in Quincy, MA. An experience in itself, I will not focus so much on their business; but, on some small things that I appreciate from my meeting.

Stop and Shop, a New England staple. This grocer can be found all over the country and is one of the largest grocers in the world. What struck me about the company was its corporate social responsibility. They are committed to the community they are in. Whether it be the Jimmy Fund of donations to local food pantries. The company devotes a lot of its time to trying to help the community.

A grocery store is not just a place to “stop and shop.” In many cases it is the center of the community. Many times you will see neighbors, friends, and relatives. In many ways when you go shopping you are engaging with the community around you.

Stop and Shop corporate wants to make sure that their company respects the community that is built around it. They not only want to be the best in the industry, but the best in the community. Now this may not always be the case, but it is corporate’s goal to make it happen.

Beyond just the community though, Stop and Shop is also committed to giving their employees a chance to succeed. Many members in the corporate office started off as employees in their retail stores. They were given the opportunity to grow. And although most in the corporate office have college degrees, many have the degree of “hard work.”

Stop and Shop not only values the education or experience, but also the person. “What sets us apart from other companies in the industry is the people.” The company does not limit blue collar workers from taking on white collar jobs. And when they do take on these jobs, they succeed.
Stop and Shop is not the biggest name in retail. But, I appreciate the opportunity I was given by being able to ask questions about their corporate structure. Their philosophy that “anyone can make a difference” really makes me appreciate the service they provide.

Confidence, Arrogance, Slices of Humbleness Pie

Last week, I spent time on a service trip with Sojourn in Oakland California. We slept at a church called Three Crosses Church and helped do repairs for a local multi-ethnic and multi-generational church in an Oakland neighborhood named Regeneration Church. We also did work for a newly started nonprofit called 1951 Coffee Company that runs a coffee shop that hires and equips refugees with barista skills in order to help them enter into the American work force. They also provide mentorship to the refugees they serve and provide other support to this group experiencing the loss of a home community.

That’s about all I want to say right now about the trip, at least for right now. I am extremely thankful for the experiences and for the people I met there. Every moment was a growing moment, and although I am exhausted, it was a good trip. Thank you to my fellow Sojourners, and thank you for this trip that, like Sojourn, embraced the uncomfortable messiness of our shared existences in a meaningful context.

During this trip, we were given the wonderful opportunity to attend a dialogue hosted between various church leaders in the Oakland area from various racial and ethnic backgrounds at Regeneration Church. Among these leaders, there was a Latina woman who was a campus minister at UC Berkeley, a black man who led a local church in one of the Oakland neighborhoods and who was also a mentor to other local church leaders including the pastors at Regeneration Church, a white man who led another community church in one of the greater Oakland neighborhoods, and finally an Asian woman who was the head of worship arts at Regeneration Church and a former professor of Asian-American history. There was a ton to unpack from this dialogue, but one theme that deeply stuck with me was the need and desire to listen. Over and over again, each leader talked about how important it was to listen to people who thought differently than themselves and to listen to people from different backgrounds and identities.

What struck me the most about this entire dialogue, and a lot of the ideas expressed by the various different people at Oakland I met, was how convicted yet not judgmental everyone was. There was a sense of urgency and importance to every social justice cause hurting the various communities that were marginalized in the neighborhoods, and yet there was an intense dialogue that was constantly constructive, listening and yet also sharp. Nobody seemed, and perhaps this is not the best word to describe it, pharisaic. This convicted and yet open and dialogical attitude was incredibly pervasive in the groups we worked with and it was extremely refreshing. There was some kind of courage in it; each leader embraced the messiness and was unguarded, yet they were all convicted and idealistic and willing to work through the challenges without embracing any bitter hatred and self-righteous judgment.

Although there are various reasons for this mentality and attitude, I believe part of it was a drive towards an external sense of justice and social good that was more important than any sense of self-righteousness and moral superiority. In fact, I believe there was a lack of focus on the self entirely, and it was this avoidance of focus on self-image and self-righteousness that resulted in a much stronger conviction and the ability to cause a much greater positive impact on society. The focus was on something much larger than oneself, and it allowed more empathy and dialogue to exist.

This difference is incredibly important. It has lasting impacts on the self, on the greater societies that we as selves influence, and on our world in general. Arrogance is both blindness and a social wedge.

Since this character flaw is so detrimental and affects so many variables in our greater society, I must ask myself this hard reflective question that actually connects to my previous blog post: am I arrogant? How much humbleness pie do I need to eat?

On the last day of our spring break service trip, we did this Sojourn tradition called The Hot Seat. The Hot Seat is perhaps one of the most Sojourn things in existence. Here’s how it works: one person sits in a chair in the middle of a circle made up of everyone else. The person is the middle is not allowed to say anything. Then, for two minutes, everyone else says kind and uplifting things that they think or have observed about this individual. It’s incredibly inspiring and incredibly uncomfortable. There are some hilarious pictures of us in the middle of it on Facebook. Everyone looks so uncomfortable in the moment. In every picture of the Hot Seat, one of my friends has the same uncomfortable expression on his face. His look reminded me the look that Jim often gave in The Office.

The funny thing is, after it all happened, everyone was so sentimental and alive. We were all so alive. It is a messy and uncomfortable experience that is so very much worth it for everyone involved.

Anyways, when I was on the hot seat, many people told me they loved hearing my thoughts and reflections. One friend called me a philosopher and said I unlock new places in the minds of my peers. Another friend said my thoughts enhance any discussion I am a part of and that I add a wonderful and quirky dynamic and unique perspective to discussions. My closest friend from Sojourn who is honestly like a sister to me described me as the most human person she has ever met, an idea that I am still contemplating the meaning of. Honestly, what does it mean to be very human? It received snaps from everyone around. She then also reaffirmed a sentiment expressed by nearly everyone else from Sojourn: that I should keep talking and continue sharing my thoughts.

But should I? I have a sense of arrogance in me. I am afraid that I just like to hear myself talk. What if that’s why my blog posts are so long? What if that’s why I talk a lot? What if that is the underlying intentions behind my words? If that is the case, my thoughts and my contributions could easily become, and often are, harmful and detrimental. That being said, there are times when I genuinely feel like what I am saying matters and that I actually need to say something. And yet, there are times when I feel like I am expected to be deep or philosophical and need to share something. There are times when I catch myself genuinely concerned about my image and how people see me. I honestly really could use some humbleness pie.

How one obtains humbleness pie, right now, is beyond me. Perhaps I need more solitude in order to better center and harmonize the various drivers and structures that exist in my head. Hopefully then my focus can return to the greater causes and meaningful conversations that I care about and I can contribute towards in positive and enhancing ways.

Until then, perhaps I will have to hope my intentions are largely pure.

Or perhaps I need to speak less and listen more.

Service Reflections

This past week for spring break, I traveled to Macon, GA on an Alternative Service Break (ASB) trip with eight other BU students and a staff member chaperone. We left Boston bright and early (or I suppose it was dark and early) on Saturday morning at 5 am for the 20+ hour drive. We—along with another ASB trip—stayed the night in North Carolina in a house with three kids, four cats, and a dog that somehow also had room and food for 20 college students. This was the beginning of a constant stream of hospitality, welcome, and an overabundance of food that we would experience over the course of the week. Every evening during our group reflection time, someone would comment on how welcomed and supported they felt by the community. We spent our days working with Rebuilding Macon, an organization that repairs the homes of elderly and disabled folks in the community. We painted a house, helped install new windows, built a fence, and constructed a wheelchair ramp. In a world of daunting systemic problems, our work may not seem significant but it was energizing to talk to the homeowners and see that our small actions meant the world to them.

For me, this week was exactly what I needed—without my computer or phone and surrounded by people who had previously been complete strangers to me, it was a total break from school and personal obligations, news and politics, thinking about the future and constantly straining to discern my call. That’s not to say it was a carefree week—we spent a lot of our time confronting and grappling with racism, sexism, poverty, privilege, stereotypes, and sustainability—but it allowed me to take a step back and look at things from a new angle.

One thing this week confirmed for me was how much I want service to be a regular part of my life. In conversations with my fellow group members, it was so refreshing that service was such a natural choice for them and I loved that we could engage in such deep discussion about important topics despite only knowing each other for a few days. It was also interesting to see how religion did or did not intersect with service. For me, my service grows out of my faith and my sense of call to serve others. I may not explicitly think about God when I engage in service but I think my upbringing in the church and volunteering with church groups and faith-based organizations is what has most shaped me to be the kind of person who wants to engage in service. But that is not the case for others. Some engage in service because they think it’s just the right thing to do. Others serve because they can’t sit idly by when they see injustices or problems in society. One member of our group came on the trip because they had never volunteered before and wanted to see what it was all about.

These differing motivations for why people engage in service had never really come to the front of my mind before but it did this week as we entered a very vocally Christian area of the country. We slept at a Baptist church and on Wednesday night, members of the church hosted us for dinner. We enjoyed talking to them and at the end of the dinner, various members of the church offered us advice—be true to yourself, follow your passion, continue to serve others. Each of these pieces of advice were followed by some version of ‘trust in God and his plan for you.’ Once I got past the overabundance of masculine pronouns for God and my slight twinge of discomfort at knowing that several members of our group did not identify as Christian, I started thinking about how these church members saw our service as a natural extension of an assumed Christian faith. Throughout the week, we talked in our group reflections about how our interactions with people had challenged our stereotypes and assumptions about people in the south and we also wondered if we were challenging local assumptions about millennial college students from the northeast.

At the church dinner, I wondered what the church members would think if they knew that not all of us were Christian or that we disagreed with the message that was sent by the abundance of pamphlets the church kept on display about homosexuality and other ‘sins’. On the one hand, it was beautiful to see all the connections that we made with these people and the pleasant conversations that we had but on the other hand, it was discouraging that we could only have those conversations when we carefully avoided all political and religious topics.

Needless to say, I still have a lot to process from this past week, but one thing I’ve been holding on to is that, despite our differences we were united with the church members, the local volunteers, and those at Rebuilding Macon by a desire to serve the community. For the homeowners we helped, it didn’t matter why we had felt drawn to service. All that mattered was that we were there, working and laughing and building together.