Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Abigail Henderson ’14 is taking a leave of absence this semester do what she calls “A Semester of Service” in Philadelphia. She is keeping a blog as she goes and will share selected posts with The Daily Gazette on a weekly basis. You are invited to read the full blog at semesterofservice.wordpress.
Who: I am (in no particular order) 21 years old, white, queer, middle-class, privileged, from the Midwest, a student at an elite liberal arts college, a lover, a learner, tall, female, an Ultimate Frisbee player, a Cognitive Science major, an artist, a linguist, a biologist, sentimental, passionate, self-critical, a human being.
What: A semester of service and volunteer work in all sectors, using my time and resources for others as much as possible.
Where: Philadelphia, PA
When: Fall 2013
Why: I want to explore the world of service in hopes of coming to some conclusions about how and where I can do the most good. Also, because I can; I am fortunate enough to have no prohibiting responsibilities or needs at the moment.
So what exactly are you doing?
– Animal Shelter: Washing dishes, walking dogs, feeding cats, etc.
– Teaching English as a Second Language to Spanish-speaking immigrant restaurant workers.
– Working at a community house and garden in North Philadelphia called Serenity House, mostly weeding the garden, helping with chores, moving furniture, and helping with the website.
– Leading a Drama Club for 4th-8th graders once a week at one of the Philadelphia public schools.
– Doing Education Policy research with Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), recently looking at test scores, budget crises, and enrollment procedures for charter schools.
– Working with a group at Swarthmore to create an online Anti-Oppression Resource Guide with relevant definitions, articles, organizations, etc.
– Being a volunteer librarian in one of the Philadelphia public elementary schools.
– Random other things, including helping a senior with yard work, giving free massages, and anything else that pops up.
Goals for the semester:
– Figure out what level I work best at: individual or systemic? Preventative or corrective?
– Find my balancing point between self-care and service work.
– Help some people and animals. 🙂
Why I’m keeping a blog:
– People want to hear about my semester and I’d rather spend in-person conversations discussing new things instead of repeating old things.
– Many people have expressed an interest in doing what I’m doing but are unable to because of school, time, money, etc. I want to make this journey not just for myself, but for others as well.
– I want this semester to be recorded, for myself as well as for others.
What I don’t want this blog to be:
– Documentation of a privileged person’s journey into the “urban” world to do charitable things and write about them in hopes of a few good pats on the back.
– Effectively a journal, that no one reads except for me and one or two others.
– A weekly distillation of everything I have experienced, so that there is only room to mention everything and not to delve deeply into anything.
What I do want this blog to be:
– A space for me to process the things I will be seeing, doing, thinking, and feeling on a given day.
– A way to be held accountable.
– A place to explore complex problems and hopefully get critical feedback and start discussions.
Who I hope reads this blog:
– Close friends and family
– Acquaintances I sometimes talk to
– Complete strangers
– People with varying views/opinions
– People who will be inspired
– People who will challenge me
What I hope that I do with this blog:
– Write. Often and honestly.
– Learn. I often make connections and gain a deeper level of understanding when I am forced to synthesize information and put words on a page.
– Share. I want to share my experiences, my insights, my problems, and my heart with anyone who may be able to also learn and grow from them.
What I hope that others do with this blog:
– Read it. And not get caught in the trap of “Oh I really want to but I was busy last week and I missed a couple posts so now I have to catch up completely but I don’t have time to do that right now so I’ll never really get around to it.” If I post too much, just read the latest entry and call it a day. If I post too little, give me a poke. 🙂
– Comment. Feedback is very important to me, as it reminds me that people are reading, it keeps me accountable, and it opens doors for conversations with people from all viewpoints.
– Share. If one of my posts catches your eye or your heart, you are welcome to share it with anyone and everyone.
– Challenge. If I write something that is hurtful or ignorant or otherwise not okay, call me on it. Without rain, a tree will not grow.
I believe strongly in communication. If you have any questions, confusion, or ideas, please share at any time. 🙂
Abigail Henderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Abigail Henderson ’14.