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A Captain's Viewpoint: On Service

  Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My parents always enforced the value and necessity of helping others. From a young age I not only enjoyed service but felt I could make an impact. When I heard about the Bonner Service Scholars Program, I had found my way.

Launched in 1989 at Princeton University, this program was founded on the belief that community-engaged students have unique abilities that allow them to change the places where they live. It has since spread to universities across the nation, including CNU in 2011.

I learned many lessons as a Bonner – perhaps none greater than the necessity of humility. Because of my upbringing, I assumed I already had the tools to be the epitome of a Bonner Scholar and thought it was my responsibility to “save” the homeless community, my chosen service track. I quickly realized I was wrong. Prior to becoming a Bonner I viewed service as going to a soup kitchen around the holidays. But the program taught me I must put in time and dig below the surface to make an impact. Service is not simply putting a bandage over a problem; it’s about getting at the root of an issue, addressing it the best we can.

What I’ve learned was crucial to my service at NATASHA House, a transitional home for single mothers and their children. It also served me well in other experiences like our trip to Quito, Ecuador, which inspired me more than words can express. While there I visited a remote village known simply as Village 235. We only knew it was a three-hour drive from Quito, followed by a 20-minute walk into the Andes Mountains. I was skeptical about walking the Ecuadorian countryside to a village I knew nothing about, but when we arrived we were greeted with genuine warmth, hugs and smiles that lit up my heart. From the youngest and most adorable toddlers to respected village elders, everyone was so kind to us. We toured the village, which included a schoolhouse, recreation hall, concrete soccer field and a string of small homes for the population of roughly 200.

After our tour we spoke with the teenagers. We asked, “What would you change about your village if you could?” The overwhelming response? “Fix the soccer field.” They did not want Wi-Fi, cable TV or a paved road – just a better soccer field. From my perspective the village needed so many amenities and upgrades, but the villagers didn’t seem bothered by material poverty. Finally, we asked, “What is your favorite part of the village?” There were many answers, but a universally agreed upon response was, “The peace in the village. I love the peace.”

In that moment I had an epiphany: The people of Village 235 were not living an impoverished life. They have more wealth than I could ever imagine. It then hit me that we can all create our own Village 235, a place of peace and love. Peace exists there because the people are humble, grateful and love everyone they meet. It inspired me to be more like them and to love better so my life contains such wealth.

Throughout my time at CNU I had many experiences where I expected to be the “savior.” Yet I was the one saved: saved by children I tutored, saved by villagers in Ecuador. I now know

service is not about fixing a problem or fixing people; it is about empathy and respect. I owe this lesson to the NATASHA House residents, Newport News community and incredible opportunity of being a Bonner Service Scholar at Christopher Newport.

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