Unification News for September 2005

Anatomy of a Summer of Service

Miami, June 18-27, 2005
by Lili Kato

The third Summer Of Service (SOS) in Miami , Florida began on Saturday, June 18 with a focus on leadership skills development. Our group this summer is 30 participants Ð 15 high school students, 10 team leaders, 1 counselor, and 4 staff.

The first SOS program, in 2002, focused on community service in as many venues as possible. The next program in 2003 (one of 16 nationwide) focused on bringing people together from different backgrounds to do community service together. In 2004, we focused on giving participants different experiences through community service and this year's SOS has escalated to the Leadership Training level.

Our program includes an interfaith component, disaster preparedness component (with the Red Cross), environmental component, working with other well-established non-profit organizations (Hands On Miami, Habitat For Humanity), and education gleaned from the team leaders' training: Charity vs Social Justice; Citizenship; Cross-cultural communication; Rights & Responsibilities; to name a few. This 10-day program will be a significant step for those who are interested in the Global Peacemaker programs.

The second day brought us to Miami Gardens Church of Christ. We were invited to their Father's Day breakfast, sat in on their Young Adult Sunday school session, and attended the service. The sermon focused on DADS and their responsibilities. (D=dedicated; A=affectionate; D=decisive; S=sincere). It was inspirational and lively.

Afterwards, our group gathered for a verbal reflection, going around the circle and each one expressing their feelings about their experience. One college student team leader, who had noted her atheism at our team leaders meeting, expressed how overwhelmed she was with the amount of attention we received from the congregation. One gentleman had given her his own very much-used Bible - the congregation was not aware of her atheism. This was the first time she had ever entered a church and she was genuinely amazed at her experience. Other participants expressed how much they enjoyed the sermon, and recognized the importance of its message. This was one of our interfaith components for the Summer Of Service program. We wanted to experience other people's faith and theology, understanding how it impacts their lives, how it makes them who they are, and how it affects their actions in society.

The first thing we did day three was to have a written reflection in everyone's journal on the interfaith activity we had the day before. Next, a representative from the Red Cross gave an excellent presentation on their history and what they do. It was very informative, and many participants were inspired to consider registering for their CPR and lifeguard classes. The Red Cross training in disaster preparedness is valuable preparation for local service as well as service done outside of our country.

Monday was an "inside classroom" educational day: the team leaders facilitated this session, presenting much of the information they had received at the team leaders training (Charity vs Social Justice; Defining Service; Cross-cultural Communication) and CONNECTING it to the Service For Peace Core Values .

We did ice-breakers and teambuilding exercises as well, and the day ended with written reflections in their journals.

Days four and five took place at The Hope Center , a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting people with developmental disabilities. This facility is a residential and day training facility that provides training, opportunities and care for people with developmental disabilities, opening doors to greater independence.

We painted the outside walls of the building, giving it a much needed sprucing up. One team painted the clinic. We began the first day with an introduction presentation on The Hope Center from the programs director. At the end of the day we were given a tour of the facility. The SOS team was deeply moved by what Hope Center does : giving dignity and value to every human being, regardless of their physical or mental condition.

The Hope Center staff was very impressed with our group and what we are doing. They also thought we did a very good painting job. I had an opportunity to talk with a couple of the high school participants as they were waiting for their ride home and learned that one of them started a Model UN club at his high school last year and continues to build it up. He is currently the president of the club. This is his first time with our organization and he is so impressed with what we are doing.

Day six was Field Day . a day of fun with a purpose. We gathered at a beautiful nature reserve with a man-made beach and a gigantic water slide. We started the day with written reflections about the day before (finishing up painting at the Hope Center ). The facilitator for today's activities explained why we were having a field day and what its role was in this 10-day program. She expressed the hope that the activities we were going to do would have something we could apply to our future work, education, home life, and just about everything else; especially in the areas of teamwork and ownership. We would have snapshot reflections after each activity to connect it with the objectives of the Summer Of Service program.

(One note: South Florida 's weather has been off this summer, beginning with double the rainfall we normally have. Today I realized that having a program with factors that cannot be controlled adds an important component to leadership skill development. We are challenged to be creative, flexible, patient, and ultimately, successful.)

When the rain decided to leave us be, we had swimming at the beach, braving the water slide, building turtles in the sand, and a very good lunch. There was opportunity for the participants and the team leaders to talk with each other, and get to know each other a little bit better.

The seventh day of our program was spent with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami. We worked from 7:30am until 3:00pm in Overtown . This area, located in the heart of the city of Miami , used to be one of the nicest spots downtown in the 1920's and 1930's. However, today it is one of the poorest and most dangerous locations in the city. We laid sod, planted trees and bushes for two of the homes that day, and it was some of the hardest work we have ever done! Also, the dirtiest! Habitat's project manager was very pleased with our group. They had gotten behind on much of their work and needed to catch up. And catch up they did.

Most of the SOS participants had never worked with Habitat before and they all had a gratifying experience. As always, the Habitat site manager gave an orientation to the volunteers. Included in this orientation was a very moving testimony from one of the Habitat homeowners. Eight years ago he had been a drug user and would hide from the police under some trees in the lot that NOW has his home which he helped build with Habitat. It was truly a stunning testimonial. The SOS participants were moved and inspired and recognized the power of transforming lives through volunteerism and taking responsibility.

The work was hard and long, but the SOS team found new friends and meaning in the world of community service. One additional experience that was added to this day: at the end of Day 6 the SOS team was promised a surprise lunch at Habitat. Throughout this morning there were whispers and talk about this surprise lunch they were going to get, and visions of culinary delights were most likely dancing in their heads. After they all gathered for lunch and were awaiting their surprise, I asked Dr. Lenaghan to tell all of us what he was fed for lunch while in the Dominican Republic while working at the project site just recently. He told us "a big sweet potato, some raw nuts (sort of like cashews), and for dessert, mangos". He said it was delicious. Then I asked one of our team leaders who is from Peru about the food that is eaten by the country folk, living in the mountains where we might do a future project. Her reply was, "some baked bean and spaghetti soup" which is all that they have to eat. I also told them that the most popular food in Zambia , and what they would most likely be given to eat if they went there to do a project, is boiled mouse . The lesson was that what you eat is part of your project experience, whether you are here in a less fortunate neighborhood or somewhere else in the world. Oh, the surprise lunch?? PBJs and apples. It was a surprise to them, but they were so hungry from their hard work there were no complaints.

Day eight, we worked with Hands On Miami, a volunteer center organization. The name of the project was "It's the Little Things That Count". This was a beach clean-up, focused on picking up the smallest trash, such as cigarette butts, tab tops, pieces of Styrofoam, etc., things that a turtle might mistaken for food, and ultimately choke on and die. The section of beach we worked on is a nesting area for the turtles and home to other marine life. Afterwards, we had a barbeque, beach volleyball, and swimming, all the while getting to know more about each other.

Day nine was our 2nd interfaith day in our Summer Of Service at the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist Dharma Center in Miami . This was a very interesting experience. We began with an introduction to Buddhism and a little background history. We were shown a short video, and afterwards we went into the meditation room and had the opportunity to experience meditating. It was fascinating to learn about the practices and beliefs of Buddhists, which added a new dimension to our ten-day program. The final final day in the Miami Summer Of Service. We began with a post survey followed with written reflections. We verbally went over each day with all of the participants to remind them of their activities in order to help them with their written reflections. Next, each participant was asked to prepare a one-minute "snapshot" presentation of their experience over the last 10 days: their name, where they come from (which school), which day/project was their favorite, and why. The team leaders were asked the same thing, only they had to connect their favorite activity with the SFP Core Values. This was my favorite part of the 10 days! I really enjoyed all of their presentations. We had a really nice photo presentation (with music) which captured the energy and emotion of the 10 days, and lent some humor as well. Certificates were then given out, with a photo of each participant/team leader receiving it. We had a group photo, congratulations, and a really nice lunch.

There will be ongoing projects with all the participants and team leaders throughout the coming months. These projects will include mini-certifications, along with their documented hours, which will be kept in their portfolios to be used as documentation of their training for national and international level projects.

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