Emma Smoll, Class of 2020: Reflections on “Service, Leadership and Sustainability” Jump Start Trip.

If I’m being completely honest, I had never actually cared about community service until I joined SLS. I had done it plenty of times before. I had volunteered at the children’s library and walked dogs at the animal shelter and volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of America, and at the end of each day that I volunteered, I logged my hours and then went home and felt good about myself for Doing Something that day, and never gave it much thought after that. I always excused my lack of effort in community service to being young and immature. Plus, people who do volunteer work are just better, right? I’m just a person; I can’t be perfect. I do enough for the people around me.

It’s easy to care about the people closest to you. It’s easy to have limitless compassion for anyone who you’ve loved, or for the people who raised you or helped you through a tough time. It’s easy to want to help the people who you relate to and whose faces you recognize. The people who make you smile. We feel a responsibility for the well being of the people who surround us. For most people, this circle of responsibility extends to immediate family and friends. These are the people whose expressions we can read, who we ask, “are you okay?”, who we would take into our own homes, into our own rooms, into our own beds if they needed us.

Before I came to SLS, my circle of implied responsibility extended to my parents, my brothers, and my three best friends. I cared about everyone I met enough to want to make them happy and to understand their perspective in life. But if they were in a tough position, I wouldn’t have felt any obligation to help. After all, I don’t know you that well. I don’t know what your life is like. And I’m here, and you’re there. You’re the one who doesn’t have a home, or food, or a way to find a job or wash your clothes. We’re not friends. Why should I help you?

Something happened to me during my week of SLS. It wasn’t a spontaneous shift, and parts of it weren’t perceptible  to me until the week was over, and I was sitting in my dorm room wondering why I had been so sad to leave. It was series of little moments that paused my life and made me sit introspectively inside of them for minutes at a time, weighing their meaning, pondering and feeling, and eventually moving on with a lesson learned. Like drops in a puddle creating a lake, I left SLS not only with a vast expanse of knowledge I wouldn’t have found anywhere else, but a giant pool  of compassion not just for the people closest to me, but for all other humans.

I think that the first time I really felt it was during Potluck in the Park. Potluck in the Park is a huge operation. They serve hundreds of people every single Sunday, and they have for the past 25 years. It isn’t a simple action of handing off food and then packing up, though. Potluck in the Park harbors a sense of community. People helping are intermixed with people being helped. Some people who don’t currently have homes help with unpacking food and washing containers, and then they get in line to eat. There’s no definitive line where “homeless people” begin and “people with homes” end. For my part at Potluck in the Park, I stood in the blazing sun for hours chatting with people and handing out taco salad. It was sweaty, and it was fatiguing, and it was wonderful. There was a shift in my heart when I looked into the eyes of the people who I was serving. It was like I could see myself in them, or I could see my older brother or my mom or my best friend. It felt like a human connection. It felt like I could’ve been the one who was being served, and this person would stand in my shoes and gladly scoop food onto my plate. I was so incredibly proud, in that moment, not just of myself, not just of everyone in SLS for helping at the event, but of everyone there, serving or being served, for working together and being caring members of society. For me, the barrier between “helping” and “being helped” broke down that day. My circle of people who I care about started inching into wider and wider ranges.

The other students in SLS inspired me too. They didn’t just inspire me, but they pushed me. The sense of community within the group was palpable. I had never met a more inclusive group of people. No one got left by the wayside. No one was forgotten. There were no cliques or senses of elitism. This is something that could feasibly be expected from a group of people who have lived with each other for their whole lives, or are related, or have some sort of implied obligation to each other. But we, as kids in SLS, were a group of singular people who all came from different places and had completely different lives. Different homes, different people we loved, different experiences, different pasts. Why should any of us have cared about anyone else? But we helped because we understood. We felt that obligation because we knew how it felt to be far away and without friends. I was pushed to new limits of caring in SLS. The other group members were constantly reminding me to invite everyone on a hike, to include everyone in conversation. I was a stranger, too. I was 2,268 miles away from home, stressed as hell, and I knew no one. But that 4-H camp in the middle of Oregon that I had never been to before already started feeling like home, because I never felt alone at SLS. It’s easy to gloss over the minor details of a trip like that, but I think even the seemingly insignificant interactions matter. It’s a compilation of all of those details that make a person feel cared for.

Since I’ve gotten back from this trip, I feel that all I can do is implement the lessons it taught me into my own life, and thank the people who made SLS possible. Now I feel an obligation towards other humans like I’ve never felt before. I feel an obligation to be a part of my community and to consider every position that I could be in before becoming too secure in my own. I don’t care about first impressions as much as I used to, and I think that everyone is worth getting to know better. I value human connection above everything else. I think that it’s my job as a human to help out other humans when they need it. And it’s my hope that those humans would do the same for me.

Sept. 17th Service Saturday Recap: Salem Saturday Market

Student volunteers braved the rain this Saturday, September 17th to help run a tomato tasting booth at the Salem Saturday Market. Local vendors at the market donated their tomatoes for market-goers to taste-test and vote on their top three favorites. The booth acted as a fun way to showcase all the various types of tomatoes being sold at the market and attracted kids and adults alike. Volunteers helped cut and prep the tomatoes and ran the booth by offering instruction and encouragement to try all the tomato samples on display. Volunteers also helped keep track of attendance by counting the number of community members who entered the market in the first ten minutes of each hour.

While running the booth was lighthearted and fun, participants were encouraged to notice the demographics of market-goers and whether or not they believed the community members at the market were totally representative of the greater Salem community. For example, the Salem Saturday Market accepts EBT (electronic benefit transfers), but the number of market-goers paying with EBT remains very low. In reflection, were asked to think about the social and institutional information and resource barriers that might affect certain groups from attending the market and whether or not the market really served all members of the community. This helped put the experience in context with the broader social forces at play in the Salem community.


by Juliana Kushinka, CSL Coordinator.

Yasmine Genena, Class of 2016: Four Months Later… Where I Stand

I graduated in May from Willamette with a major in International Studies and minor in Chinese Studies. I cherished my four years at Willamette. It was the college experience I had hoped for and each year there presented a new experience and challenges that I hold close to my heart. It was a time when I was continually challenged in the classroom, made lifelong friends, had a range of part-time jobs and leadership roles, studied abroad in China, and finished it off writing and presenting a meaningful thesis. However, towards the end of my time I was ready for a new chapter. I was eager to take what I learned inside and outside the classroom and have a new type of experience outside the bubble.

My senior year, I was one of the Language in Motion (LiM) student Liaisons. During that year, with the help of the coordinator and other student leaders we worked towards transitioning LiM to be student run. I also sustained the program through recruiting and preparing students to give presentations in local high school classrooms. It was a rewarding experience as it connected the Willamette Community to the local community. In my earlier years at Willamette I was a Take A Break: Alternative Spring Break Program Participant and occasionally volunteered during service Saturdays. Through my sorority, Delta Gamma, I spent three years volunteering for Talking Books and Braille Services supporting our philanthropy, service for sight.

After I graduated, I began an AmeriCorps VISTA position, under community engagement for an anti-hunger organization, Partners for Hunger-Free Oregon (PHFO). Ever since my TaB trip, it sparked an interest in the issue of food security, in our country and internationally. That is part of why I chose to do my year of service for PHFO. It is an organization that works towards ending the root causes of hunger through advocacy and program outreach, throughout the state of Oregon. We do not do any direct service around food, such as Oregon Food Bank’s work, though they are a vital partner in our efforts. I have been working there for about two months so I am still wrapping my head around the responsibilities of my specific position and the impact and structure of PHFO work. One important connection that has resonated with me from my LiM work to my current position at PHFO is the value and importance for patience. Change is slow and many times includes a lot of interests.

A few general facts about hunger in Oregon:

  1. It is not an issue of not having enough food, but instead accessibility to financial and other resources.
  2. 15% of Oregon family experience food insecurity.
  3. 1 in 4 children experience hunger.

I aspire to live abroad long-term and have a career in international development. I am using this AmeriCorp year to recalibrate myself and continue to apply for international opportunities, while giving back to the community I grew up in.

Please feel free to contact me at yasmine@oregonhunger.org with any questions.  I would love to connect!

WU CSL Office welcomes 26 first year students to Willamette with “Service, Leadership, and Sustainability” Jump Start trip.

The CSL Office is off to a fast start to the 2016-2017 school year with the completion of the “Service, Leadership, and Sustainability” (SLS) Jump Start trip, where 2 student coordinators and 4 student facilitators lead 26 incoming first year students on a 5 day service trip throughout Northern Oregon. Students engaged in a variety of service projects while discussing the complex social and systemic issues that the organizations address. The organizations that students worked with included Zena, Potluck in the Park, Family Building Blocks, Boys and Girls Club, Salem Harvest, Marion-Polk Food Share, and Horses of Hope. Working with these organizations provided opportunities to for leaders to facilitate discussions centered around environmental preservation, homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, economic inequality, disability studies, among others.

Throughout the trip, students were encouraged to explore these issues in context of the three major concepts listed in the trip’s title: service, leadership, and sustainability. This involved developing personal leadership development and furthering an understanding of  environmental, economic, and political sustainability while working at the service sites. This is a new addition to the program after re-branding the trip that was formerly titled “New Student Orientation to Community Outreach” (NSOCO).

Upon arrival at Marion Polk Food Share, students were met by Natalie Pate, a Willamette alum, who went on to write a story for the Statesman Journal about volunteer trips from WU and nearby Corban University.*

“That article was a cool opportunity to highlight a lot of the good work college students and organizations are doing in the community and promote awareness of these systemic issues” added Eric Lassahn, Director of Community Service Learning at WU.

The trip had a strong impact on the participants.

“Not to be too cheesy, but I really feel like this trip was life changing for me” said trip participant Kaela Roeder. “I learned so much about my new community and I plan on getting involved in other service learning projects in the future. Visiting Horses of Hope made a big impact on how I want to plan my college experience so that I can continue to work with the populations they serve.”

SLS also left the trip’s leaders with a strong impression.

“I was very inspired by the students and their interest in these complex social issues,” said trip facilitator Donald Swen, a junior physics major. “This trip makes me very excited for this new incoming class of first year students at Willamette.”



*Natalie Pate’s article for the Statesman Journal: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/education/2016/08/23/university-students-help-local-food-share-fight-hunger/89207196/