My passion for service led me to join the Engaged Citizen Corps at Drake University, an academic and service year experience for first-year students. The Engaged Citizen Corps program requires students to volunteer at an organization, and I was assigned Children and Family Urban Movement (CFUM). Being part of the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I have to be more mindful of my actions while volunteering, because “even the most innocent and well-meaning attempts to help, inflict pain” (Lupton 147). With this possibility in mind, I wonder whether or not I am making a positive impact on CFUM, what have I learned about myself so far, and how have my views changed during this entire experience?

I work with the different programs that CFUM has to offer, such as their K-5 programs, Gender-Specific programs, and community engagement programs. While working with the K-5 programs and Gender Specific programs I help clean the classrooms, prepare snack for the children, plan enrichment activities, help with homework, and monitor the children’s whereabouts. I understand that when working with children one needs a lot of patience and truthfulness, especially when there are continuous conflicts: the children fighting with one another, children misplacing items, not listening to me or the other adults, and not wanting to participate in academic studies. Truthfulness allows me to render genuine answers to the recipients about school and life. They understand that they can trust me as an ally and someone to look to for advice, particularly towards college. However, I do run into questions about the possibility of hard work and personal struggles inhibiting them from wanting to go to school, which is why I also work in the community program section of CFUM for their Grit Program. But, before I attempted to manage the Grit program, I had to apply the concepts I was taught in the ECC program.

In being a ECC member, I took a First Year Seminar Class called The Common Good. In this class we read Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. Lupton admonishes forms of volunteerism that will cause more harm than help, in particular, precluding the chances of dependency and disempowerment. Most of the causes of toxic charity is from volunteers that lack recognition in their actions, and expressing a superior deposition. To preclude the chance of any expression of arrogance or superiority, I have to “enter the neighborhood as a learner than an initiator” (Lupton 161). I am an observer with the students, with the intention of trying to find what they most needed most from the grit program: support, endurance, recognition and other essential characteristics. The overall goal is to empower the youth, in which Lupton expresses that “when we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them” which then creates dependency, and dependency is a form of toxic charity (Lupton 3). We want to empower the youth to make a social change, and give them the tools to surpass potential obstacles. Hopefully, our new project can do that.

CFUM and I are starting a new project that entails integrating more grit – self-discipline wedded to a dedicated pursuit of a goal through perseverance – into the recipients. The purpose of this project is to augment the children’s chances of success after they graduate from CFUM’s programs through activities promoting grit. CFUM and I want the children to be successful in their academics, social and emotional lives. I am collaborating with the program coordinator – Hannah Olson – to ensure that the activities I am creating can be feasibly implemented. Before creating the activities for the children, I read two books by Paul Tough, How Children Succeed and Helping Children Succeed. Both books take on the challenge of elaborating on methods of augmenting the chances of a child’s success, and record other organizations trying to do so. In addition to this, I had to procure inspiration concerning grit activities from other professionals through online research. With information from Tough’s books and online sources, I realized that grit has many counterparts to it. Therefore, I divided the curriculum of grit into subunits: growth mindset, discipline, environment, intrinsic motivation, and failure. My activities are modeled after each of the subunits of grit, which would overall teach the children how to apply grit into their lives. Some of the names of the activities that I have created are Grit Pie (inspired by Kristen Goulet), Finding Your Grit, Board of Support and Guidance, and Perseverance Walk.

Most of these activities were made from essential skills. I had to use my literacy, organizing, creativity, and recognizing skills. When reading the books and online resources, I analyzed the importance and effective approaches each one were depicting. Also, I organized my notes in a presentable manner to the directors of CFUM to ensure they could understand my findings. In addition to this, the most prominent skill is creativity. With working with children, I have to make activities that appeal to their interest. Through volunteering for CFUM, I recognized I am more than just a volunteer, I am a role model for the recipients that go to CFUM. I came to this conclusion once I saw that I identify with many of the values of CFUM. CFUM appreciates how I value development, discipline, knowledge, and grit, because these are values that they want to implement in their recipients, so the children can have long-term success. From having these similar values, CFUM wants me to work for their organization past my 2 semesters of volunteering, in order for me to be around the children/recipients more.

Individual analysis forces one to approach whether or not their service is effective. I feel as though my work is effective because of how I am building strong bonds with the recipients, and making it known to them that I am an advocate for their success through the projects that I am on. In addition to effectiveness, individual analysis allowed me to learn about myself. I learned that I am more than just a volunteer; I am a role model for others. Even if I don’t see it, I have people looking up to me, and it shapes how I conduct myself. I conduct myself humbly as a positive role model. Besides learning about myself, I learned that service can be toxic, in which volunteers can do more harm than help. With that being said, I cannot wait to continue my service with CFUM and other organizations in an effort to find more opportunities for impact and growth.

Written by: Jamie Rusan