An Unintended Valuable Learning Experience Through Community Service

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Through my community service, I have experienced many challenges as well as benefits. When I began my journey at Spring Hill College, one of the conditions of my generous scholarship was to participate in a community service for at least three hours a week every week. The Foley Center has hundreds of service-sites to choose from, but I narrowed down the decision-making by avoiding services that I simply had no interest in rather than choosing a simple one. My first year at Spring Hill, my service was teaching English as a Second Language to adults who were refugees or immigrants. I had never done anything of the sort, so I figured that it would be a fun reciprocal learning experience. It was great. I met some really interesting people from various parts of the world. Unfortunately, I have no passion for teaching any subject. I aspire to become a criminal prosecutor. One day while politely intruding one of my teaching sessions, Dr. Orange, head of the Foley Center, asked me if I would be coming back to ESL the following year. I expressed to her my concerns, and she responded with the solution to my dilemma. She then introduced me to Charlotte Tipton, who is a staff attorney at Legal Services Alabama. And that is where my service-learning truly began.

            Relevance to coursework. Once I began working at Legal Services Alabama, I finally felt that I was spending my time in a more valuable manner. At the time, I was majoring in political science and law, so I believed that there could not have been a more perfect fit for me than volunteering at this local law office. Although I have since changed my major to psychology and added a minor in Spanish, it is still equally applicable to my service, if not more. I am still working with people from different backgrounds, from clients to attorneys. I should have double-majored with all the legal and psychological experience that I am receiving from volunteering at this office.

            Pros and cons. However, even though I was finally placed at a site where I feel that I actually belong and will benefit from, there are a few tradeoffs. According to our textbook, tradeoffs are things that you do not want but must accept in order to have something that you want. Unlike ESL, which is an on-campus site, LSA is a fifteen-minute drive to downtown Mobile. Additionally, there are a couple blocks of walking as well. Another tradeoff for me is that I am helping my community. This may sound strange, but it is a law office after all. It is a law office that provides civil legal help at that. From bankruptcy claims to domestic violence, there are no fun cases. I have lived in Mobile for almost ten years. Witnessing these claims in my own community can be disheartening at times and literally hit home for me. And although the clients may sometimes be familiar, I have to maintain confidentiality as expected of me by the staff attorneys, while never judging a person. This can be a real challenge to my character. Even though I am not easily tempted to judge another, I still worry for them. I want to be able to help everyone with a problem. It is extremely difficult for me to know that someone is having a hard time and there is only so much that I can do to help.

            Furthermore, everyone has his or her own story. We all come from different backgrounds, and we all form the same community that we call home. Everyone also has his or her own problems at home, some at a greater caliber than others. Those are the people that reach out to the attorneys that I assist. Most of these people come from low-income households or less fortunate neighborhoods, and there may even be a tone of prejudice towards them. To me, it almost feels as if it is the norm to socially compare ourselves downward towards our clients. I can see how it may appear that way, but at this particular office, I know that this is not the case. I know that these attorneys really do care and want to help these people in the best way that they can. It is remarkable.

            Other benefits. Being that this office is female-dominant also inspires and motivates me. These women encourage me to strive for justice even when it can seem bleak at times. Providing free legal aid does not necessarily pay as much as hefty hourly wages of other types of attorneys. But these women work hard for the people, not the penny. They have exposed me to a piece of the community that I did not even acknowledge beforehand. With their help, my legal jargon has improved, and I am becoming more familiar with the daily operations of a legal office. This experience is crucially important to my career aspirations. Additionally, I have improved how I interact with different types of people. I am not interacting with children or toddlers. I am working in a professional environment with adults from various cultures. Therefore, my social interaction has improved. I am also expected to arrive in professional or business casual attire. By working with these women, I am not the only one providing a service, but they are also providing me with one: a career-advancement service.

Conclusion

            Volunteering at Legal Services Alabama has benefited me and taught me so much already in only one academic year. The attorneys have shown me so much appreciation that I did not even know that I deserved. Subsequently, my self-confidence has increased as well. I have been offered a legal internship through LSA. The doors that have been opened for me would not have been possible without this program and Spring Hill’s mission. I am definitely grateful for being able to have the opportunity to participate in a community service like this. It will be a great addition to my resume as well. This has opened doors for me, and I will probably never be without a service again. I enjoy knowing that I am making a significant impact on my own community, whether it is a grand gesture or simple behind-the-scenes work. The learning experience is what it all worth it in the end. I will more than likely continue with my service through graduation.