Giving back to the community has always been something that is very important to me. During the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I was given the opportunity to attend my first work camp. Our church youth group took two vans to the small town of Aliquippa, PA. Hundreds of teens and adults from different places around the US were going to spend a week painting houses, building decks and wheelchair ramps, and just having fun serving the community. We also were going to be living in one of the local schools during our stay. Once we arrived, we were assigned to work crews. There was one small catch though. We did not know anyone on our crew. We would spend the week working together to accomplish a project with five strangers. Daunting as that task may have seemed to the then thirteen year old me, we succeeded, and I learned a lot about myself in the process. In the two years that followed, I attended two other work trips in West Virginia. Having the opportunity to attend these work trips has provided me with experiences I am truly grateful to have.
-New Recognition of the Value of Teamwork- Whether it be on a team of people I know, or a team of people I have never met, if everyone is committed to the job, and does his or her own part to accomplish the task, the whole team can be successful.
-Learned New Level of Interpersonal Skills- I am a shy person by nature. Particularly during the trip in which I was working with strangers, I was forced to break out of my comfort zone. I learned how to interact effectively with people I did not know in order to accomplish whatever task was at hand. As an added benefit, I was also able to form many new friendships.
-Learned Basic Carpentry Skills- painting, replacing roofs and floors, dry walling, etc.
On a physical level, attending these work camps reinforced the knowledge that I am a hands on learner and worker. I am task oriented, and someone who measures progress by means of physical evidence that I can see. I am the type of person who would write something down on a list, just so I could check it off. A task never really feels finished until there is visual proof. This relates to the work camps in the sense that when you are building something, that tangible evidence of completion is available.
Going more abstract, I also learned a deeper lesson about myself and the world. Most of the people whom we were helping were people who lived in small 3 room houses or trailers. Some of them were getting their water from shallow creeks running alongside their houses. Coming from a middle class neighborhood, this was a bit of a culture shock to me. The people themselves, however, were just like anyone else I had ever met. In fact, they were some of the happiest and friendliest people I had ever met. As a then 13 year old, this knowledge drove home the idea that wealth and happiness do not necessarily coincide. While we all believed that we were there helping these people who, in our eyes were less fortunate, I feel as though they actually gave us more than we gave them. What they gave us was not material, it was a reminder to appreciate and enjoy the simple things in life. Their sincere appreciation for the work we had done also proved to me that one is never too young to make a positive difference in the world.
Impact of Work
I know that even if I had never attended these work trips, because the groups that I went with would have still gone, the families whose homes we worked on would have still received the help they needed. However, I personally would have been shortchanged. Having attended these work camps, and having seen the conditions in which some people live in, (whether by choice or by circumstance), I was able to gain perspective on the world around me. More importantly, I learned a great deal more about myself.