During my first year at The University of North Carolina School of the Arts, I was a part of an AmeriCorps program called UNCSA ArtistCorps which was supported by a grant from the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in the Office of Governor Roy Cooper. For those of you who do not know, AmeriCorps is a domestic form of the PeaceCorps established in 1993 under President Bill Clinton by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. Through the program, I served over 675 hours at Title One school districts in Winston-Salem, NC during the 2017-2018 academic year. The experience was an eye-opening to the many injustices of lower class Americans and ultimately changed me for the better. Here are the top five lessons I learned through community service with ArtistCorps.
Lesson No. 1: Being uncomfortable leads to growth.
My first semester I was profoundly uncomfortable teaching elementary music primarily because I never thought I would have to and because I believed I was not trained well enough during my student teaching experience(s). The program director thought differently and wanted to expand my horizons and allow me to strengthen my skills as an elementary music teacher, so she placed me at Diggs-Latham Elementary with one of the best music teachers I have ever worked with. Because of my experience at Diggs-Lathem, all I want to do now is teach elementary music and have fun.
Through my service, I learned it is entirely okay to be uncomfortable because it merely means I have room to grow. Naturally, people tend to avoid leaving their comfort zone because it feels unsafe and often times scary, but we cannot truly grow unless we continue to step out of our comfort zone and into the learning zone. The learning zone is where all the magic happens, and our bodies begin to create/strengthen the myelin in our brains. Servicing at Diggs-Lathem at first was scary, but it soon found its way to my heart, and I honestly cannot wait to return to because I know I can do it.
Lesson No. 2: Kindness does not mean weakness.
One of the most common misconceptions is how kindness is a trait of weakness, but this could not be further from the truth. During my service, there were times I had me be tough, but there were also times I had to be gentle and kind. Learning to reconnect to my more compassionate side was difficult because I was always taught students would run over you if you even smiled a little bit, which as it turns out it a complete myth. Working in Title One schools meant I had to deal with some extreme cases, and show tough love when students needed it most. In the current state of the world, if you can be anything, be kind. It really goes a long way, but do not forget that sometimes tough love is the greatest kindness you can do for anyone.
Lesson No. 3: Self-care is normal.
Not going to lie. My service was extremely exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. Not only did I have to do service three days a week, but I also had to be a graduate student on top of everything. It was hard, but in the end, it made me a better person. In America, we are taught that we are only as valuable as our work which is a complete myth and a very harmful one. Learning to take care of myself was a completely different challenge I had to face, and it felt a little uncomfortable, to begin with, but once I realized sleep, proper nutrition, and exercise are necessary and not a choice, everything became more natural. Self-care is healthy, and after I learned this, I stick with my schedule, and I have one day a week where I just relax and do whatever I want without thinking about my work life. After all, we are not born to work and die, but instead born to live our lives to the fullest.
Lesson No. 4: Uncertainty keeps life interesting.
On regular bases, I would have a plan for any given day, and I would follow my schedule to the T, but sometimes during service uncertainty would strike which threw out my schedule/plan and cause complete and utter chaos for the remainder of my day. For example, during my summer service, my boss made a surprise visit to one of my service sites and on that fateful day… I crashed and burned. But in the end, it was okay. Uncertainty keeps me on my toes and taught me to be prepared for everything and anything. I also had to change my perspective of risk from something scary to a learning adventure. After all, if I survive through this situation, I can survive through anything.
Lesson No. 5: It’s okay to cry.
Some days were easy. Some days were hard. Some days I would cry. Not because I was overwhelmed, but because I would witness situations that would break my heart and could do so little. In America, we have this toxic stigma were if a man cries than he is considered less masculine. This is yet another total myth that has no place in modern day society if we as humans are going to evolve. I discovered crying is completely okay because it showed how much I care and gave me the strength to keep caring. It also gave me an emotional outlet allowing me to sort out my emotions while thinking of my next plan in the private at home. Crying is okay and showing how much you care is okay. We are allowed to have the emotions we feel.