October 25 began as a chilly day to serve. I was overjoyed to find breakfast and coffee awaiting the volunteers. It warmed my heart, if not my toes. As the sign-in area became overrun with City Year red jackets, I felt a rush of pride to be part of a group that encourages young people to take a look around and make difference. I was even more moved by the presence of community volunteers.
It’s easier, I think, to be a part of community service when your group encourages you to do it. To commit as in individual is a level of dedication that I am only beginning to understand. I have learned, through my service with teams, how I can serve as an individual.
Make a Difference Day was a special day for me this year. As I worked alongside my City Year teammates pulling weeds and laying mulch, I remembered a day much like this a year ago. Last year was my first work day with my AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC) team. I was on the other side of the country in California. There are many differences between last year and this year. It was a different project and a different team, but the commitment to making a difference was the same. As I reflected on the journey from this day one year ago, I realized how much making a difference for others has made a difference for me.
On my first project, my team and I worked to restore a learning garden at a school. Many more projects would follow over the course of ten months. I knew nothing about yard work, or mulching, or identifying weeds, or the teamwork it would take to accomplish such tasks. Today, with a new team, I set out to mulch an area on Parsons Ave., in an effort to support the work of Keep Columbus Beautiful. We carried about 12 bags of mulch in wagons. It was really heavy, but we worked together. With two people pulling the wagon and one person pushing, we made it uphill both ways, as we got lost and went over the bridge on Parsons twice. When we arrived at the work site, it was immediately apparent that we were not going to have enough mulch to finish the job. After a quick conference, we found a solution. I was surprised to find myself taking a leadership role with this new team. I was even more surprised at how natural it felt to lay out a game plan, set bags of mulch, and compromise with limited resources.
With a year of service behind me and a year ahead, I realized the value of the skills I had learned last year. I went from needing a coach and a guide for every new problem in yard work to being able to problem solve for myself and a group. That realization inspired me to think: where will I be making a difference next year? Not only that, but: what am I currently struggling with that I will be able to do proficiently a year from now?
We serve to make a difference for others, but today I realized how much of a difference service has made in my life. I’ve learned that I can’t live without it. No matter where the journey takes me next, I’ll be around for Make a Difference Day 2016. See you there.
Kathleen Griffin, City Year Diplomas Now AmeriCorps Member, Mifflin High School