By Victoria Sananikone, Staff Writer
My initial perspective of east St. Louis mirrored that of everyone else’s: a dangerous zone of crime that was unsafe to visit. After visiting the area for a service project, my perspective was altered, and I now feel that east St. Louis may not be as unapproachable as everyone seems to believe.
Our goal within McKendree University is to project a selfless institution that gives back to the community without hesitation. We channeled this notion within my University 101 class as we commuted to east St. Louis.
There, we targeted an old church called New Haven to help clean and organize. Immediately we were greeted by members of the church who welcomed us with smiles and laughter, thanking us repeatedly for coming out to help them when we could have been back on campus participating in whatever shenanigans college kids typically get up to on Saturday’s.
Instantly I felt safe, and although the outward appearance of the neighborhood seemed uninviting, it was peaceful. Inside the church we were presented with an array of food that was bought just for us by the church members. This gesture of kindness heightened my comfort within the vicinity and brought me to the conclusion that all universities should require some sort of community service.
My first experience with community service was with my church when I took part in a service project called Church Under the Bridge. Under the rumble of cars speeding over the highway, we set up multiple tables with an array of different foods that we served to the homeless.
This opened my eyes to the devastation that people face in our world, and granted me the opportunity to listen to some of their stories. It was enjoyable beyond measure and I became obsessed with the thought of putting smiles on other people’s faces. Since then, I have experienced many opportunities for community service, the most extreme being a mission trip to Haiti that I have been on twice.
Community service is optimal for experiencing the dynamics of society around you. It is a form of education wherein individuals are taught through cycles of service to develop an increased understanding of the world around them thus producing individuals who are well-rounded and cognitive of their actions impact on a society of greater magnitude than they were previously aware of.
From donating your service to those who are less fortunate than you, to aiding in the nourishment of a community garden by planting flowers, these practices humble you and remind you of the beautiful interaction of kindness between humans. Even the seemingly insignificant services such as organizing a closet-which was my job in the church- granted me with a humbling feeling of pride as I gave back to the community.
I believe this realization is imperative for every student to experience, for when you transition into the real world after college you will be presented with many ways to serve others whether you desire to or not. One would then find community service to be an easy task and be more likely to continue to give back.
If you find yourself contemplating the task of carrying out any form of community service, I encourage you to embrace the opportunity with an open mind and an open heart. You never know how it could change your life or the lives of others all around you.