Over spring break I traveled to New York City. That’s right, the big apple, but it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. As a part of the Wildcats serving NYC group, I saw more than just Times Square and Fifth Ave.
12 of us spent six nights in the Bronx. We woke up every morning to catch subway trains or walk a few blocks. In order to buy food and other necessities, we had to find corner delis, grocery stores and 99 cent shops (there are no Walmarts). These simple tasks gave me the feeling that I was living in the city and not just a tourist.
So really, we were never supposed to be tourists at all. I’ll admit, I love to travel and I initially wanted to cross NYC off of my bucket-list. However, as I attended interest meetings and chapels, I quickly realized that this trip was so much more than sightseeing. We were given the opportunity to volunteer with non-profit organizations in the Bronx and Downtown Manhattan that helped kids and teens succeed in school.
I interacted with so many people in so many ways. Our group attended church services where we were with members of the community. In a city that is so fast paced, it was moving to see people come together to worship God and form a communal bond. One of the churches we attended provided meals and a place for the homeless to sleep on Sunday nights. We worship3e alongside them, sat next to them at dinner and listened to their stories. It is important to remember that they are people too, no different than we are.
I was mostly a part of the high school team, a group of students and mentors who went to the High School for Health Professions and Human Services in Manhattan to volunteer. We served on a panel to answer questions about college, helped high school students fill out FAFSAs, conducted mock interviews and held a leadership retreat for teenage girls. It was amazing to see how badly these students wanted to succeed. Many of them commuted from Brooklyn, Queens and the other 3 boroughs. They asked great questions to help prepare for life in college. They were also engaged in the leadership activities and worked together well.
I might go as far as to say that these students helped me as much, if not more than, we helped them. They helped open my eyes and break down stereotypical thoughts in my mind. But I also realized that people are people everywhere. I interact with people just like them, and the others I met, right here in Abilene. There are opportunities to serve local children and teens through Treadaway Kids, Big Brother Big Sister and after school tutoring jobs. Sure it’s great to break out of the ACU bubble, but we can also get out of our comfort zones on a more local level. I want everyone to get the chance to be radically changed and experience the feeling of serving others.