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Community Service Learning Curve

Our newest guest blogger Charlotte Adinolfi shares her experience spending a year in service with Catholic Charities and the many lessons that came with it.

This week, we are thrilled to introduce our newest VolunteerSquare.com guest blogger Charlotte Adinolfi. Charlotte is a Fairfield University graduate and following graduation she chose to embark on a year of service work through Catholic Charities of Baltimore.

She was placed in a school for children facing extreme emotional and behavioral challenges in Timonium, Maryland where she works as an educational teaching assistant in the Maura Pre-Vocational Center.

During the day, she and her team work to teach the children, ages 5 – 14, life skills such as nutrition, sewing, wood shop as well as career development lessons at two schools: St. Vincent’s in Timonium--the elementary school, and Villa Maria--the middle school.

She also works at their Belcamp, Maryland campus. In total, the team serves over 200 children. In this blog Charlotte candidly shares her experience of spending a year in service and the valuable lessons that came with it. - Rachel

Not too long ago, I was sitting at the computer in the Diagnostic School of Villa Maria having finished registration for state-wide testing for the elementary school students, I couldn’t help but wonder whether what I had done that day that made a difference or counted as service.

For the better part of my day, I had been standing in the record room at St. Vincent’s staring at the students’ latest Individualized Education Plan, better known as IEP in teacher-talk, recording their age, ethnicity, state-issued ID number and a host of other information.

This wasn’t making any connections with the students and I wasn’t being any kind of mentor that day. To top it all off, I was continuing to do small projects that were not connecting to my ultimate career aspiration to become a journalist. Five months in, I was still struggling to find that connection between my love of service and my love of writing.

Service has always been important to me and having received a Jesuit education at Fairfield University, it was something that was always stressed inside the classroom as well as out.

Being an English major, I was never really sure how I could combine the two. I tried pitching and writing articles related to non-profits, the struggles of such organizations etc. I would like to think it was an endless, always-interesting, feel-good topic but I had trouble making these topics continually turn into successful stories.

I like to say teaching runs in my family and since there were no writing positions available at Catholic Charities for this year, teaching seemed like the right fit. I hoped my year of service would help me figure out how writing and giving back could be combined but this proved to more of a challenge than I anticipated.

This struggle continued for some time. For the first few months, I even thought about changing my career path. After countless conversations with my family, friends from college, my supervisor, past journalism mentors and editors as well as other staff at Catholic Charities about my strugge connecting journalism and service, what can I do to change that, how am I ever going to feel like I matter and my career means something, I made myself stop. Why was I stressing out? If I really think about it, I am making a difference now.

I had to stop and realize I am gaining skills no matter what career path I end up choosing. One of the most important of which is learning to adapt. I am learning how to take any task placed in front of me, find the way I want to attack it and take pride in what I do.

These situations have also allowed for me to improve my communication skills, letting people know when I am having a hard time completing something, when I can’t handle a particular student or just when I need to vent about my day. All of which will come in handy as a journalist or whatever career I choose. No matter what I have done this year, it has only served to enhance my skills as a professional and as a person.

As the day came to an end and I was still sitting in the library. My phone rang and it was the librarian who is in charge of registering all the students at all of the Villa Maria campuses for state-wide testing.

Her gratitude and appreciation for the work I’d done to help her finish registration for two campuses and save her from having to stay late into the night was what made it click for me again.

Yes, the conversations with students about their weekends, their families and their interests make a difference. Yes, playing with them outside or teaching them about nutrition make a difference but there is much more than that.

I would like to believe the full-time post I hold at Villa Maria Schools makes a difference every day but doing service and giving back doesn’t need to be a full-time job.

This past year I’ve come to realize that oftentimes the rewards of volunteering are found in the little tasks, the quick connections with the students, the small projects that help the non-profits be able to do their jobs better that make the real difference.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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