I have always viewed service as an extremely powerful thing. Since I was little, there has almost always been some part of my life that’s been connected to at least a simple act of service. I think one of the main aspect that I have taken away from this class so far in relation to my views on service is the idea of “helping” versus “serving” and what it actually means to really serve. This is a topic of interest that I have faced a lot while working with my organization here in Des Moines.

Jewels Academy is a non-profit organization that offers STEM and self-enrichment programs for underrepresented girls in grades 4-12, which is an area that has only recently been brought to the forefront of social awareness. Kim Wayne, who serves as the Executive Director and Chair, founded Jewels in 2005 with the goal of providing young women in the Des Moines area with the competitive edge that they need to succeed both academically and professionally in STEM-focused careers. Many young women experience little to no access to science and technology related educational opportunities, especially more advanced courses. There is also a lack of support, mainly in under-served communities, for girls to pursue careers in science and technology. Jewels Academy provides hands-on learning and introduces innovative concepts and technology in a variety of programs from non-traditional educational programs to a STEM day or boarding school. By offering these in depth programs, they are giving young women the encouraging and nurturing environment necessary to empower and prepare them for success in a national and global STEM workforce.

I have come across this helping versus serving debate a few times in the last two months that I have been working with Kim at Jewels. The goal of service writing as I understand it is to provide service through the work that you do, but so far I have yet to feel like I am truly serving this organization. I have written a few grants and put together two newsletters, and overall I have been thanked for doing those projects. However, I am almost always following a template given to me by the directors, and the majority of my work is edited and changed to more accurately fit their needs. I have always understood that this is what would be happening while working with an organization like this, but am I really serving them if I am not allowed the opportunity to do much of my own work that I feel would benefit them? Or am I only helping them? I have never thought that serving and helping were two separate concepts until recently. The discussion presented that serving is positive while helping is more negative in terms of the effect they have on those receiving the service. I disagree with this because I feel like any type of service can be construed as serving or helping, and can have both positive and negative effects. People should not shy away from doing service work just because they do not think it’s actually “serving”, but it is also important that they feel fulfilled themselves. Hopefully by the end of working with Jewels Academy, I will be able to feel like provided them with meaningful service, even if it is not me really “serving” in every sense of the word.

written by Etta Moline, working with Jewels Academy