Hey everyone, Peter here!
In high school, many students are required to complete a certain number of community service hours to graduate. In college, nobody is going to force you to volunteer. However, volunteering can be one of the most rewarding, and fun, experiences that you will have during your college years and can shape you as a person.
UConn has a great program called Community Outreach, which organizes and executes a variety of service projects for students. These opportunities range from tutoring local middle school students to alternative spring break trips all over the country. I personally have been involved with the various trips offered through Community Outreach (CO).
Last fall, I went on a weekend Community Outreach trip to Providence, RI. While in the city we volunteered at a homeless shelter, a women’s and children’s center, and a fledgling private school for talented inner city students. The school was really exciting and personal for everyone on the trip because the Principal of the school allowed the twelve of us to set up camp in the basement in exchange for our service.
The experience of working hands-on in the two different shelters was extremely profound. It provided an opportunity for us to take a step out of our lives at UConn and into the shoes of those who are less fortunate. After we served food to the homeless at the Salvation Army, we sat and engaged in personal conversations with the unique blend of people around us. There are so many stereotypes in our society about the homeless, and taking time to hear and share all kinds of fascinating stories was instrumental for me towards breaking down stigmas that I had developed on my own.
The experience in Providence inspired me to participate in another CO trip this fall: the weekend trip to Boston that focuses exclusively on the homeless. I have been attending pre-trip meetings for the past month in preparation for the trip that will occur the first weekend in November. While in Boston, we will be volunteering with three different agencies that all have unique goals: “Hearth” focuses on ending homelessness amongst the elderly, “Heading Home” is based around changing the conditions that create homelessness, especially for families, and “Boston Health Care for the Homeless” addresses the crucial and controversial issue of providing health care for the homeless.
The variety of agencies will provide an opportunity for me to learn a breadth of new information about the homeless. Being from a small town on the coast of Maine, the world of homelessness was absent from my day to day life as a child. Whenever I would travel to a city, I was and still am, always struck by the quality of life that millions of homeless have to deal with. Many people are disgusted by or scared of the homeless, and the goal of this trip is to break down those stereotypes. Many homeless people caught a series of unfortunate breaks at some point in their life and as a result are currently unable to provide a home for themselves and their families. It is important to remember that they are still living, breathing, and loving people, and reaching out to even one homeless person can go a long way.
If giving back to the community is something that you have any interest in, I highly recommend checking out the Community Outreach website. There are week long trips over spring break that go all over the country, and actually this year there is even a trip to Haiti. I have met some of my closest friends through Community Outreach and it has been a great outlet for me to share my passion of helping other people and giving back.