I’ve become more interested in service since my time on Alternative Spring Break; it has gradually pervaded most of the things I do. I look for opportunities to engage in service through my classes and other extracurriculars (like the Honors Program), and attempt to engage others in the process. Since going on a service trip to Louisiana, my knowledge of serving others has grown. However, I believe the most important lesson I’ve learned is from Cindy, my boss at the Community Service Office (CSO). And, that lesson is: how to do service the right way.
Wait, what did I just say? A right way to do service?
Yes, you read correctly. And, believe it or not, many struggle with performing service that will create a meaningful and positive impact. One of the most common and pervasive mistakes is forgetting to critically think about the person or persons that one is trying to serve.
I’m starting to sound crazier, right? But, it’s true.
Think about it. How often does anyone ask the person or community in question what they need? In my personal experience (before I started working in the CSO), I know I did not do this. I was in the habit of thinking: What would I need if I were these people in this situation?
Going about things in this way can pose a lot of problems. Through my own experiences with Arcadia’s Ebola Supply Drive, I’m going to deconstruct this problem step-by-step.
Step #1: Address a Specific Need
“What need am I addressing?” As I mentioned earlier, this question is often forgotten. I admit, it is natural, and much easier, to try to jump in the shoes of the people affected and think about what they need. Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t work. Mainly because we have no idea what the affected people are experiencing. Let’s use the current Ebola outbreak as an example.
West Africa is experiencing an Ebola epidemic that has infected approximately 9,200 people. The country most impacted, and receiving the most press, is Liberia. But, information in the media, while initially focused on West Africa, has become focused on the few cases in the U.S. Many news outlets have headlines concerning how those patients are being treated early, in some cases with experimental drugs.
Therein lies the problem. Without being properly educated on the varying circumstances in West African countries, it is difficult to guess what the distinct populations actually need.
To make sure our Ebola Supply Drive served its intended purpose, the Community Service Office determined a specific need. We were approached by Fodeba Daboah, an alumus of Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program, who also happens to be from Sierra Leone, the country second most affected by the outbreak. He operates a nonprofit, HEAL Sierra Leone, in his home country and requested our help in a supply collection. He gave us a list of supplies, ranging from personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gloves, and IV poles that would help in containing the epidemic. With his unique perspective, we were ready for step two.
Step #2: Research the Logistics
How would our supplies get from point A to point B? When would the drive begin and end? How would we get volunteers for our collection days?
Mara (my co-coordinator) and I set to work answering these questions a month before the drive started. We researched shipping methods and costs to get supplies from here to West Africa. We created donation guidelines and advertised to Arcadia and the local community. And, most importantly, we recruited a great deal of help. To generate the amount of supplies we were looking for, we reached out to the Public Health, Physician Assistant, and IPCR graduate programs to assist in outreach to organizations. After ensuring we had all the information we needed, we moved to the final step.
Step #3: Engage the Community
Here is the creative and often the most difficult part. Cindy, Mara, and I attempted to engage the community outside Arcadia by advertising to the local media and holding three collection dates. We’ve also reached out to businesses and organizations to ask for donations of supplies, which involved many phone calls and some faxing (a skill I learned specifically for this cause). Not the most glamourous of jobs but highly effective!
To engage our on-campus population, we took a different approach. Since most students wouldn’t have access to things like IV poles or face masks, donating time or a little money was the best way to reach them. In addition to utilizing student volunteers at our collection dates, I took advantage of my connection to Arcadia’s Honors Program to create a “Boas for Ebola” campaign in conjunction with their annual screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. During each of the performances, we raffled off copies of the movie and other prizes and sold refreshments to raise awareness about the epidemic and money to purchase more supplies.
These simple questions have proven useful in more than just service. They’re applicable to many of the things I do, from completing a project for a professor to planning campus events. And, honestly, I might not have realized their far-reaching implications without the Community Service Office.