Getting Out of My Comfort Zone with Service Learning

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“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

These words of wisdom expressed by Mahatma Gandhi completely capture my experience in New Orleans. Before I started taking the service learning course about New Orleans I was not fully aware of how much of an impact Hurricane Katrina had on the city. I was able to read Zeitoun, a pretty interesting book with an impacting story of a man and his family during hurricane Katrina. I learned about the levees and how they were not built to support category 5 hurricanes and how even after the hurricane happened they did not re-build it to better protect the city this time, instead they just covered the broken spots. After learning about the damage hurricane Katrina did to the city, some people’s personal experiences through the storm, and the reasons why people stayed or came back, I am more aware of the city’s resilience. I am glad I had the opportunity to go to New Orleans and contribute to help the city keep moving forward.

I had the privilege to meet the house owner of the house we were working on; Ms. Cece, a strong, wise, sweet woman that illumined me with her smile, young spirit, and good sense of fashion every time we got a chance to see and talk to her. She shared with us about her family, the difficult moments she went through after her husband’s death and other close relatives, her passion for medicine and tailoring. Ms. Cece is a woman in her sixties full of life.

Every moment working at the house was special, because I was contributing to re-build Ms. Cece’s home, but one of the most beautiful moments I had during the trip was when I was singing “All of Me” by John Legend along with one of Ms. Cece’s grandsons. He had such a beautiful and powerful voice that filled my soul with joy. That was without a doubt a meaningful moment for me because just by singing a song we were able to connect and come together as one to produce angelic melodies. This relates to working at the house because despite our differences we were able to unite. We all had a common purpose, which was to work hard and get as much as possible done every day to make Ms.Cece’s desire of a new house a reality.

This service experience allowed me to recognize and appreciate my strengths. The house we worked on was in the first stage, so we had to organize and take out the owner’s personal belongings before we started demolishing the house. That was a challenging process. We constantly had to use uncomfortable safety gears, a hammer, a big sledgehammer, a drill, and other tools. I have to say that it was pretty fun breaking down the walls and using the drill. The demolition of the house was less intense; thanks to the encouragement I received from my house leader and peers. Although I was enjoying the work, there was a particular moment that I felt like giving up and stop working as hard because I was not physically feeling well. But it is not in my nature to leave things half way when they get tough, so I had to keep working with the same or even more intensity. It was hard to even hold the hammer, but I was constantly telling myself, “Forget about the pain, you can do this.” It was in that moment I realized how determined I am. My life and service experiences have demonstrated me the things I am capable of doing. If it is about service, I would not think about it twice to give all of me.

It was a lot of hard work and fun times, but upon reflection, I feel like I would have appreciated to have been more exposed to New Orleans’s culture and community. As a timid person, I know how hard it is to get out of one’s comfort zone, but with the work I have been doing as an organizer and my past service experiences I have learned that getting out of my comfort zone has helped me to genuinely enjoy any activities I become part of and that has helped me grow tremendously. There are so many things that one can miss on because of fear of trying, or fear of doing something out of the ordinary. I missed a lot of valuable life lessons because I was not comfortable enough to try new experiences, so today I regret being skeptical in those moments.  As human beings, we do not like to feel uncomfortable, but sometimes that is an effective way of learning.

Sarah MendezSara Mendez is a sophomore from Dorchester, MA. She is majoring in Social Work and is a Passion for Action Scholar. She was motivated to come to Wheelock because of its mission and commitment to service and social justice.