Hello my name is Danielle Dircks! I am a first-year Neuroscience major from Omaha, Nebraska and a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC). The Engaged Citizen Corps has given me the opportunity to strengthen my passion for service through unique class experiences, an internship, and exposure to the Des Moines Community.

I was first introduced to the Engaged Citizen Corps when I was a senior in high school. My Drake admissions counselor took one look at my resume, saw my passion for helping others, and recommended this program. The ECC allows me to use what I am learning in the classroom and apply it to the real world. As a first-year student, I was required to take a First Year Seminar (FYS). Because I am a member of the ECC, I was put into an FYS entitled The Common Good. In this FYS, myself and the eight other members of the ECC dove into the world of service. We used the book Toxic Charity, written by Robert Lupton, to address some of the misconceptions involved with service work. His book mainly addressed the idea that even when you have the best intentions, you can do more harm than good, especially if you are not looking at the impact of your work on those you are trying to serve. The most important thing in service should be the people you are trying to serve.

In addition to taking specific classes, the ECC partnered me with a local non-profit where I was able to put into action what I have been learning. I have been working with HOME Inc., an affordable housing non-profit, as a research intern. My main task has been to conduct a research study to generate measurable outcomes for the work HOME Inc. has been conducting. I spent last semester collecting data. I went through over a hundred files from the last 30 years collecting information on our clients and on the houses that we have sold to them. I looked at things such as property value prior to HOME Inc. buying the house, the property value after HOME Inc fixed it up, the price the client paid for it, the size of the family, and their income. Now that I have all of the data collected, I am starting to analyze it. I am looking for trends, commonalities, and irregularities. The main goal of this study is to see what impact HOME Inc. has had on the surrounding neighborhood through looking at specific questions such as, has housing retention rate in those areas increased? Through their revitalization work, have they increased property value? Not only are we looking at the neighborhood, but also the families. Does having a stable place to live allow for an increased income? Do the children of the homeowners go on to finish high school or attend college?

This research project has allowed me to take what I love, experiments and research, and apply it in a different environment. Between the classes I have taken and my internship, the ECC has given me a new perspective with which to view the world. Most college students live on a bubble on their campus. They aren’t exposed to the community around them. This is especially prevalent with the Drake campus, since the area surrounding it doesn’t match the demographics of the school. This new lens the ECC has created has opened my eyes to the realities many people living not too far from myself face. I have decided that the phrase, “I understand” will no longer be a part of my vocabulary. No matter how much I want to fully empathize with someone, every single person is different. People living in poverty (notice the people first language) experience things that I cannot relate to. My perspective will always be different from theirs. As one of my professors says, “even if we are sitting no more than five inches from each other, you will still be able to see things that I can’t. No matter where we are physically positioned in the room, we will never see the same things. Just as we will never experience the same thing and thus never know exactly how the other feels”. I am fortunate enough to have always known where my next meal was coming from, or how I was going to pay for my books for school. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone.

The Engaged Citizen Corps has allowed me to broaden my horizons, learn about the interworkings of a non-profit, and think about service in ways I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It opened my eyes to something called people first language, instead of saying “poor people” to say “people living in poverty” because their socioeconomic status doesn’t define who they are as a person. The Engaged Citizen Corps encompasses the full meaning of service learning through its ability to connect what I am learning in classes, both my ECC classes and my neuroscience classes, to what I am doing out in the community. Through application, my knowledge doesn’t just lay static in my brain, it gets applied to my daily life in ways I never anticipated.