This I Believe

Tina - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Entered on August 31, 2007

I Can Change the World in Two Hours

In college, I enrolled in a service learning class, where students volunteer at community organizations. The idea is to apply classroom knowledge to real experiences, but I didn’t enroll because I was keenly interested in volunteering. I just thought it was an interesting way to fulfill my Public Ethics Theme, which is a liberal arts requirement at the University of Minnesota.

I was never motivated or moved by phrases like “social justice” or “civic engagement.” I had some very Puritan ideas on personal responsibility, in the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” sense. With enough hard work, a person could achieve anything, and if you weren’t achieving, you probably weren’t working hard enough.

For the internship, I worked with adults on improving their English and passing the citizenship exam. Suddenly, I was exposed to groups of people who I would never seek to interact with in my daily life, and for two hours every week. My viewpoints were changing little by little. I met people, born here and abroad, who valued life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which had only been a string of words to me. They cherished the ideals of equality, democracy, and education, and above all, they were working to see that those ideals were available to everyone. They were not singular people working in isolation, tugging their lonely bootstraps to the top of the world. They were working as a group, a little bit at a time, piecing together a shared vision of how the world should be.

In two hours every week, I saw how my actions were becoming a part of that vision. Recent immigrants were better navigating American culture as they got to know me and other native-born Americans. People were gaining confidence in speaking English, which meant better jobs or more access to education. They were learning more and more about the country that was their new home and becoming its newest citizens. We began to truly understand one another as we dispelled all of the things we thought we knew before we ever met.

After my internship, I continued to volunteer in other organizations. The results were always similar, no matter what goals we had. I worked roughly two hours a week, and amazing things happened. We were growing and changing, challenging our assumptions, and making peace with our differences as we achieved our goals.

Today, I’m an AmeriCorps VISTA, and I try to create more of those two hour opportunities to change ourselves, our world, and how we see one another. I still believe that with enough hard work, we can accomplish anything, but not in the singular sense. I now believe that change happens when we work together and share all of the skills and passions we each carry as individuals. By bringing those passions into one place, at one time, with one hope of improving the world, we can make a tremendous impact. And we can do it in two hours a week.