A Serving Light
Last summer I had an opportunity to speak at the United Way Spirit of Alamance luncheon. After serving closely with my students this week at the annual United Way Taste of Alamance event, a focus on service for this blog post feels right. Today’s post highlights a few stories from my presentation last summer.
Let’s get started.
All of us have varying gifts that we provide to our communities through sharing our talents and passions. And on a daily basis, we find ourselves in various communities (family, school, clubs, hobbies, work, church, and many more).
When we choose to serve our community, we begin to share our talents with others and we hear stories, which helps us grasp the needs of our community.
I have always enjoyed serving and helping others. Simply, I love to serve. Along my life journey, I find out more and more every day my passion for contributing to positive change in communities.
We need to understand ourselves to work with others to contribute to change. We must learn about others outside of our circle in all parts of our community. By understanding self and others, we work toward positive change.
We must keep our eyes, ears, and heart open to continue to learn about various people and environments.
My first dedicated service experience with an organization was when I was a student at Elon in 1999. I had a professor talk about volunteering for local organizations. Before this, I would volunteer here and there for an event but nothing consistently. As she shared opportunities, one struck me as a place that I would like to serve. Little did I know that this would become one of the most memorable times of my college experience.
For a year and a half, I served the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club tutoring fifth and sixth graders. Not only tutoring, I attended a variety of events with students from Halloween Fall Festivals to Bake Sales at Holy Hill Mall.
This led me on a pathway after graduating Elon to find ways to engage in the communities I was a part of after graduation. From serving the Mt. Pleasant Lions Club in Michigan for three years, where I also served as their youngest board member. To serving five years with the Michigan Special Olympics State Games. To finding myself as an advisor for Student United Way during my first full time faculty job at James Madison University. To engaging college students in service learning at Elon. And most recently, serving the community with my Hope Church family for Hope Third Thursday’s. .
When I arrived back at Elon in 2012, I knew I needed to open my eyes, ears and heart. After five years, I have had the opportunity to build collaborative partnerships with the university and community members to give students the opportunity to learn about Alamance County as well as create ways for students to engage in the community outside of Elon.
During my first semester at Elon, I shared in one of my classes the importance of collaborative partnerships with sport organizations and community organizations. The example I gave in class was my experience with Student United Way at JMU and the Rockingham County United Way in Harrisonburg, VA. After the class two students came up to me and said, tell us more about United Way. Shortly after the conversation, we worked collectively to develop the first Student United Way at a private university in the state of North Carolina.
Over the past three years, I have worked closely with the United Way staff and my Facility and Venue Management course to learn about Alamance County and United Way through facility site visits and serving at events such as Municipal Madness and Taste of Alamance.
In my sport management facility course at Elon University, my students and I take a journey learning about the community outside of the walls of the university. Many are very hesitant at first. As we are wrapping up the semester at Elon, with our last facility class being next Monday. I want to share a bit about the course as well as my passion for pursuing opportunities to serve and to learn.
I challenge students to be engaged learners and extend their learning outside of the classroom by attending facility site visits in the local community (Alamance YMCA, Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, and the Burlington Royals stadium). Before visiting each of the sites, students are responsible for learning about Alamance County through a written assignment and the creation of a team video where the students actually drive or ride the Bio Bus route through downtown Burlington. The majority of the students in the course have never ventured out into the county until this course. In addition, we have partnered with United Way of Alamance County to assist in working a variety of events (Municipal Madness, Taste of Alamance and the United Way Car Give-A-Way at an Elon home basketball game).
Students visit each facility site as a class and are responsible for journaling notes about challenges that each of the sites face. After the site visit is complete, students write an executive summary to the organization outlining a few of the challenges they saw during the visit and provide recommendations for possible solutions.
I continue to learn alongside my students and community partners because I don’t know it all (none of us do). I remind them that I too need to keep my ears and heart open to the needs of our community.
The importance of this work was instilled in me by a professor, an educator, an advocate…who served as a role model for me and introduced me to an experience that contributed to my passion for serving in communities.
I understand that I need to create ways for students to navigate their pathway to learn more about themselves and others to make positive change not only in our Elon Community, but also in our surrounding community, Alamance County.
A while back, I read a Monday motivational piece from one of my friends and colleagues who is a motivational speaker and presenter, Paul, the Ripples Guy. What he wrote hit home for me as I was thinking about all of this, he wrote…
“I invite you to notice the ways in which you are doing a great job of considering the needs of others you encounter AND I dare you to spend some time wondering how your own life might improve if you were able to extend that consideration to those who are currently outside of your circle of concern.”
- Paul, the Ripples Guy
Wow, I thought. I had to step back and think to myself. Yes, these are the needs I have for my own family, friends, colleagues, and so on. How have I and how will I contribute to the concerns of others? How has community been there for me? Let us start with the last one first. How has community been there for me…
As I mentioned in last Friday’s post, I am a single parent and for the past six years I identified as a single person living in Alamance County with my son Caelan. During my own transition into the community, I faced challenging times that I too looked to community for help. Six years ago, I was in a different place, recently separated filing for divorce, paying daycare, paying mortgage on a house in Staunton, VA, rent for my apartment, lawyer fees, worrying for months on end if I could make ends meet, blah, blah, blah. I did not want to share any of my challenges with colleagues because I was concerned how I would be perceived. I wanted colleagues to see me as an excellent teacher and contributor to the university.
Many who surrounded me did not know any of the struggles I was facing. Luckily, I had access to counseling for any up and down emotions as well as free financial counseling. This feeling was not something I had faced before, I was married for eleven years, had the four bedroom home, the SUV, able to buy olives and feta crumbles at the posh grocery store and I could go on and on. My first year here I would have friends ask me to do things and I would have to say no. First, I didn’t have the money to go to dinner and how would I pay for a babysitter. Sometimes I worried that this would affect my ability to build relationships with people at work and that I was missing being a part of a community.
I was a 34-year-old single mom who had an awesome job and a decent income, how could I be struggling? I felt as though I was spiraling. I had come to the realization that after being married for eleven years and building my life that I was starting all over again and that I would not be able to indulge in the lifestyle I became accustomed to. There is an unseen benefit, after a year things began to turn around. And it was time for deep soul searching to seek out opportunities to join and be a part of communities.
These stories are all around us and mine is only minor; we experience this in our personal circles and many times are unaware of those experiences in the circles of community that we avoid stepping into because we are uncomfortable.
I’d like to share one more story about the consideration of others and showing concern for others.
Caelan and I were going to get groceries at Food Lion about a year ago. And well like any, 9 year old, now ten year old knows is where the Red Box machine is. From the back seat I hear, “Hey mom, we should go get a movie, you know it is right by Dollar General.” I said, “Sure, why not.” As we approached the Red Box, there was a man sitting outside on a blanket in the alarming heat and he asked me if I had any money. I said actually I do not have any cash on me; however, I would like to get you something from the Dollar General with my card. “What would you like to have” I asked, the man said “two ice cold bottles of water.” I said sure thing. Caelan and I proceeded into the store and came out with two ice-cold bottles of water. We gave the water to the man, proceeded to the Red Box, and got our movie. As we walked over to the grocery store, Caelan looked at me and said mom that is sad. I proceeded to share with Caelan how on campus I had attended a homlessness panel and learned more about homelessness and that I still had more to learn. I elaborated and said, this can happen to anyone, someone who loses their job, who becomes ill and can’t by medication, and on and on. Even possible for the single mom who struggles to make ends meet.
To do critical work in our communities we need to step outside of our perception (within the first five to six seconds of meeting someone we create who we believe someone is) and acknowledge the lens of our own bias.
Two weeks later, we saw the same man sitting across from the Harris Teeter Caelan noticed him first, and said, “Mom, there is the same guy who we got water for.” We were on our way into the grocery store, as we proceeded into the store Caelan and I discussed what we should get the man. We got bottles of water, snacks and face wipes. We left the store and got in the car and drove over to the man. I said, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember us.” He smiled and his eyes began to water. We spent a few minutes with the man and as he walked away, he said “Bless you both.”
I believe when we find space to be vulnerable with others even through discomfort, we are less likely to avoid the difficult sirtuation or conversation.
We need to advocate about the needs of our community for people to develop consideration for others outside of their circle. Having these conversations can be exhausting at times, but well worth the energy to make positive change.
We will all benefit be developing understanding for others who have different life experiences as well as build relationships as we share similarities.
A year ago, I received an email from a student that was taking my Facility and Venue Management course at Elon who shared a bit about the importance of having difficult conversations. She stated:
I wanted to take the time to send you a message to let you know how grateful I am to have had you as a professor. I plan on going into sport communication; I was dreading taking Facilities and Venues as I wrongly assumed I would not use it after this class. Little did I know that you would tackle topics that relate to the present social climate and how to handle conversations as a whole.
There had been times throughout the semester where I would call my parents when walking home after class and rave to them about the topics we covered and how you handled the class discussions. I have also brought up my Venue Management Plan in interviews with Madison Square Garden where they were impressed with such an assignment and I plan on forwarding it to them.
You taught me not only about sport management but how to make society better by communicating openly and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have made me start having deep conversations with those who may disagree with me, allowing each other to see the others point of view. For that, I thank you for everything you have taught me, it will not be forgotten!
Within all communities, there are difficult conversations and situations. We must find a way to use our many talents in our communities to be a serving light to create positive change.