Reclaiming Community Service
If someone asked me to be part of a community service project 2 years ago, I would have said “I don’t believe community service can lead to social change.” But that was before I joined Soul of the City as part of the Inaugural Throw Down for the Town: The Oakland Service Festival in 2011 and was inspired by their mission to reclaim service and take ownership of our city.
My lovely co-worker, Alicia, and I hosted a training last week about how to host a community service project for Throw Down for the Town (TDFT). We asked folks to close their eyes and think about the needs in their neighborhood. In planning this training, we had prepared ourselves for the obvious barriers to service such as access to low-budget tools, time and ability, lack of community support, etc. We had answers planned for all those. But, when people started asking questions about how to engage with the community in a way that was deeper than gardening or clean-ups such as “getting trash/recycling systems and youth programs implemented, building non-discriminatory neighborhood culture, health care access for undocumented folks and doing something about sex trafficking”, I personally felt stumped. Those are legitimate needs, but what kind of service project could someone do in 3 hours to improve educational and health access?
In spite of my nervousness on how to facilitate this topic, I was thankful the conversation had been started about what it really means to have a project sustain itself and have a deep impact. It was in that moment that I felt we were reclaiming community service as a group.
“ a reclaiming of community service is needed, one which acknowledges the ways in which oppressed people are always struggling to serve themselves within the systems which perennially deny them basic rights and resources.” (Doing It Ourselves: Reclaiming Community Service)
Since reading this blog quoted above, I have started thinking about how I can creatively address an issue in my city. The problem I have been most concerned with is unemployment. The barrier I face is that this is a problem I could never solve for someone else in a 3 hour project, but there are services I can provide using the skills and resources I have. We came up with an idea to do a Professional Drive at TDFT. The drive would have donated professional attire, a few of my expert co-workers who can help with resumes and cover letters; and if I get approval for it, I would give free haircuts.
My friend heard this idea yesterday and said “but, you can’t guarantee a job for someone” and while that is true, there is a way that this approach is still addressing the problem in a way that’s not patronizing. Another idea that was brought up was babysitting for your neighbors, so that they can participate in a service project at TDFT.
This is just a start. But, it’s a start that I feel good about. If you’re flowing with ideas, write them as a comment below. Or better yet, Throw Down on July 28th! Apply to be a service project host here.