A snippet of some things I have learned in my role as a first-year mentor for the Civic Engagement Program.
By Harumi Harakawa
First semester of freshman year was, to say the least, eventful.
It was exhausting, exciting, cringe-worthy on so many levels, yet also filled with extremely memorable moments. Last year, I found my purpose in community service, I discovered what I wanted to pursue professionally, and I planted the seeds for friendships that would blossom into the life-long bonds I have today.
And amidst all of these events, somehow, my schedule was filled with a slew of several one hour meetings a week. Of these hours, the ones I enjoyed the least were the mandatory first-year meetings for CEP. It wasn’t that I wasn’t gaining valuable information, or that I wasn’t meeting people who had interesting perspectives about service – it was that life was getting so incredibly busy, with opportunities that induced both exhilarating excitement, and paralyzing anxiety, that logistical mandatory meetings concerning a part of my scholarship contract just seemed dull and time consuming in comparison.
Since then, CEP has been making a multitude of changes to improve the monthly reflection meetings – to better connect mentors to students, and ultimately to the communities they serve. I see these improvements as an effective way to make students recognize their big-picture roles as volunteers in a city that has an incredible amount of systemic brokenness and need, while also allowing them to value the resources and opportunities available here.
However, before a lot of these changes were made, the general enthusiasm I observed from CEP kids was, pretty low. So, when I jumped into my role as a CEP mentor, I was prepared for the worst – unengaged, disinterested, apathetic freshmen who would ignore me, not even motivated enough to challenge me. I was prepared to take negative feedback about how I was personally running the meetings. I was prepared to have to deal with difficult students. But of all the lessons I’ve learned from this role, how to deal with difficult, unmotivated students was not one of them.
Instead, I’ve been learning how to be a better facilitator, how to work well in a group, how to listen better, ask better questions, and how to properly appreciate what once just seemed like an annoying requirement. Through the altered curriculum for the monthly reflection meetings, and in my role as a mediator between my mentees and the partners they are assigned to, I have been touched by so many stories and experiences that really have given me a broader view of community service.
Since the Civic Engagement Program has come to Northeastern, it has grown on all levels, along with the Center of Community Service in general. I’m excited to continue my work as a mentor to possibly contribute and take part in the growth at CEP, while also getting a taste of Service-Learning through my involvement with the Street Team.
So far, I have found that many of the skills I acquired in CEP are applicable to my role as a Street Team member and as an advocate for the Service-Learning program. I find that the main overlap between CEP mentoring and my role as a Street Team member, is to ensure students have a smooth transition into service – whether that may be with community tours, or with one-on-one meetings.
The S-L family has been more than welcoming to me, with professional development workshops, and great food and company at the large group meetings where all of the leaders of the S-L program get to come together. I am truly excited to work as an advocate for Service-Learning, and am eager to welcome another semester of eye opening experiences and growth as I continue to balance working with two entities in the Center of Community Service.