I believe in Magic.

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2016 has let me experience the true feelings of love, hard work, loss, compassion, happiness, fear, anxiety, excitement, and the most important — Magic.

This December I got the privilege to volunteer at Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, FL.  The reason I got to experience such a life changing trip is due to CMU’s awesome Alternative Breaks program. What I truly admire Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorabout this program is that students interested in volunteering during one of our school year breaks (weekends, winter, spring, or summer) sign up for a social justice issue they are interested in serving, instead of signing up for a place to attend. Therefore, I got to go on a week long service trip this winter break with 11 amazing women that were also passionate about uplifting families and children.

Volunteering at Give Kids the world for four days truly has made my believe in magic again. When people think of magic we often refer to Harry Potter and fairy tales, but the smiles on the children’s faces showed me the true meaning of magic. Give Kids the World Village is happiest place on earth – it’s a place where children with life threatening illnesses and their families get to experience a week long all paid vacation full of food, fun, and even tickets to all the Disney Parks. 

Though my role during the week seem pretty minimal, I know it made a big difference since this village runs on volunteers. For this amazing place to operate it needs over 2,000 hours of volunteer service, and my group soon realized after arriving how important this service was to the children and families.

Our first dayImage may contain: 1 person, outdoor of service I got to be two roles within the village, “Lori’s Magical Flight Gate Keeper” and one of my favorites, a worker at the Ice Cream Palace. As the Gate Keeper, I learned how to operate a ride where the kids get to ride butterflies, and that is where I met one little girl I will never forget. The details of my experiences with the children are private for respect of the families, but this little one instantly showed me so much love and happiness. Her smile on the rides was truly contagious. Then that night myself and 3 other girls (Lauren, Liz, and Payton:)) worked at the Ice Cream Palace, where we absolutely had so much fun. Starting the night we didn’t know how much fun serving free ice cream to the kids and families would be, but after we made countless of banana splits, sundaes, and shakes we soon learned the true joys of scooping ice cream to all the excited kids. It was such a busy night, since many families were out at the Halloween party, which allowed us to interact with so Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and indoormany new smiling faces. Every family and children we interacted with during our week of service, and especially at the Ice Cream Palace, were so extremely nice and appreciative. Everyone and anyone that came in could order any crazy request of ice cream, and it was so fun to give a simple joy to the families. One little girl really touched my heart when she told us how volunteering with kids with special needs was a huge part of our life. She told us many stories that truly inspired us. Also one of my favorite moments of the night is when another little girl gave Liz a mask she made at the Halloween party, and then we preceded to make Liz wear it while scoping ice cream. The smile on the little girls face was so memorable.

Our second day of service was the one that impacted my heart the most. Not only was the day of service incredible, the group of strangers I came with from CMU became significantly closer by the second day. That day I worked in the Nancy’s Kitchen as a server in the morning, and at night I helped kids carry their trays while they looked all over the kitchen for yummy food to select. Working in the kitchen I met this family that I will never forget. The patience and love the father had for his daughter overwhelmed me with joy. The conversations I had throughout the week with this family is something I can’t explain. At these times it felt like nothing else mattered, because the conversations I was having seemed so magical and the most important thing happening in the room. It was awesome to listen to the girls stories about visiting the Disney Parks and what she wanted for Christmas. Just thinking about her and her family while typing this puts a smile on my face.

Also on our second day of service I learned about the most magical place within the village (and maybe on earth) – the Castle. The castle is where every wish child gets to create a star, and these stars are way more beautiful than the ones in the real sky. Each wish child gets to decorate their star, and the star fairy Stella willImage may contain: indoor take them up at night and place them on the ceiling of the castle. Then families can return and locate their star made in the past. As I walked into the castle for the first time, I got to see the ceiling glisten with thousands of stars, which made my heart pretty heavy. Give Kids the World Village has been opened for 30 years, and the castle has over 140,000 stars placed on the ceiling by Stella. Though the reality of that is heartbreaking, it is also a happy No automatic alt text available.realization because that’s over 140,000 families that were given magic during undesirable times in their lives. While I was in the castle, a girl was proud to show me around and show me all the magic placed around the castle. After playing for a while I asked if she made a star, and she looks at me with a glow in her face and says, “my sister is the special one, so she got to make a star.” The castle is
the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Up above was full of stars colored differently, some not as happy as others, but the castle shows no matter what you are not alone; the castle ceiling full of stars shows acceptance.

Our last two days of service I worked in the kitchen again both days. Though that doesn’t sound like the most glamorous job I really enjoyed it. Volunteering at Give Kids the World is more about the bigger picture, which is making every aspect of this vacation for these families stress free and full of fun. I actually really enjoyed carrying trays for kids and talking to them one on one! I found light in every single child I interacted with, and I wouldn’t trade it with anything. One little girl ran around the kitchen stamping kissy faces on our hands. So so so many smiles that I will never forget.

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Volunteering at Give Kids the World is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It’s honestly so hard to describe the experience in words, but one thing I know is that it has touched my heart forever. While volunteering, I interacted with many children, and even though I knew the common factor of why the families were there, I never knew why the child was actually there. Looking at the children, I saw normal, happy children, and I think that speaks volumes. Some of these children were experiencing the worst, and most unpredictable situations, though they still continued to play, love, and laugh hard. A word I used a lot in this post was smile, because the amount of smiles I saw was unbelievable. I can’t imagine the fear and unknown the families we interacted with had, but one thing I know it was so inspiring to see their optimism. Seeing the happiness of the children showed me the true meaning of life, but in my eyes it was even more amazing to see how truly patient, caring, and supportive the parents and siblings were. The love that spread throughout the village was truly incredible to see and experience.

Give Kids the World Village motto is something I will forever live by after this amazing volunteer opportunity …  “where happiness inspires hope”. This will forever remind me that no matter what happens in life, no matter the situations, no matter the heartache life brings you, remember whenever you give happiness hope will be created. I am easily fearful of the littlest things, but after this week at Give Kids the World, I will never take anything for granted again. I learned the true meaning of love, support, and happiness at the village. I can honestly say the children, families, volunteers, and workers at Give Kids the World Village have changed my life

Thank you Give Kids the World Village for reminding me how important happiness, love, and hope in life truly is — and more importantly, thank you for showing me the real meaning of magic.

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My Day in Flint, MI

 

Yesterday I got to be a part of Be My Neighbor Day for Central Michigan University by volunteering in Flint, MI. Be My Neighbor Day is an annual event for CMU, which involves many volunteer opportunities available in the community  of Mount Pleasant. This year they provided an event organized by CMU students to help the community of Flint, MI.

I really enjoy serving others and volunteering, and I have learned about service leadership n my college courses to be able to fully understand the meaning behind service. I loved the opportunity to see the community of Flint and being able to give back. My group volunteered at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. We were able to help the organization pack donated food to send to locations around the area. The food bank services around 330,000 people a year, within 417 agencies, and 22 counties. The Eastern Food Bank of Eastern Michigan is ranked number one in the Nation.

Then the other half of the group volunteered at Catholic Charities, also known as the Center of Hope. Catholic Charities is currently renovating an old school from 1956 into a shelter that will provide many resources for people in need in Flint, MI. They “work with individuals, families, and communities to help them meet heir needs, address their issues, eliminate oppression, and build a just and compassionate society.” They also showed how much they are passionate about hope. The group from the food bank came to Catholic Charities to have lunch with the group, so I took the opportunity to explore the building, help where was needed last minute, and talked to people working there.

I first want to note something before I begin analyzing and debriefing the day: I cherish the moments when I am volunteering. I do not take the experience for granted, and I try to give something every moment I am present. I take the opportunity to learn and not to be selfish; I realize why I am there, and that is to help others. I love the feeling of giving back, and being able to make an impact when I can. I highly enjoy volunteering, but to say the least I was a little disappointed in some people on this service trip.

Flint, MI is an area with high poverty and high rate of homelessness, and to add to all that they are unfortunately experiencing the Flint Water Crisis. It is clear that it’s a community that needs help. Our group represented CMU, and it meant a lot to the Food Bank and Catholic Charities to have us there helping them. Though, I was highly disappointed in some of my fellow Chips’ actions during the service trip.

(Side note: I really enjoyed my self on this trip, and this has nothing to do with the organizations we volunteered at. The two organizations were amazing to welcome us into their facility.)

“When I signed up for this I thought we would be taking Coach Buses, not school buses.”
This was a statement said by a volunteer as we were getting on the bus. People were complaining about the buses we were using, instead of looking forward to trip and opportunity we were given. For me, that was just hard to hear. People expect so much when the point of the trip is not to receive but to give. You can’t volunteer if you are going to do it for the free stuff, or for the title of volunteering. They should have been thankful for being provided transportation to the service site, instead of complaining instantly.

After going to the bathroom during a break at the food bank, a girl said “Oh there is no way I am using this water”. She just used soap to wash her hands, no water.
She did not wash her hands with water because of the Flint Water Crisis, even though we were at a clean facility with clean running water. She placed the stigma on Flint instantly. If the water was contaminated the owners would have stated. The point of the trip was to learn about Flint and break the stigma tied with it. I truly see hope, love, and strength in the community of Flint. People tend not to give it a chance, and instead have a negative attitude.

At Catholic Charities during lunch, some CMU athletes were there and trying to cut in line because “we ran all the way here to not make the front of the line, that’s bullshit! Lets cut because we deserve the first pieces of pizza.” Then they preceded to push their way to the front of the line moaning and groaning about getting food. 
This nudged me the most. We were volunteering at a place that serves people everyday that don’t have food, water, shelter, and clothes. This group of athletes made me truly disappointed in their actions. They spent the whole day volunteering, and I was at the the other location so I am not aware of how they acted during the day, but at the end of the service trip they seemed to not learn anything. They seemed to forget how privileged they are and how so many there would be so grateful to wait in line for a piece of pizza. One of our group leaders waited until every single person ate, and made sure there was plenty extra before she even considered eating. She showed what it means to volunteer. She wanted to donate the extra food to Catholic Services for people in need and for the workers spending their career working for such a good cause. The athletes went back up for seconds and thirds to bring back extra food to their dorms, because apparently they don’t have enough. A part of me feels bad for judging them instantly for their actions during their lunch, but I kept thinking of the families I saw that came to Catholic Charities to try to find food for lunch so they could eat that day.

Playing of loud vulgar music that constantly swore and used the n-word repetitively. 
The time that I was at Catholic Charities a group of CMU boys were playing loud music that was very offensive. It continuously used the n-word, which hurt my heart. Most of the people that needed Catholic Charities could take offensive to the music being played about  the n-word, gangsters, sex, and living in the “ghetto” and the “hood”. It may same like the college norm to play this type of music, but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. It’s important to censor yourself, and show respect to others; especially during volunteering.

Many did show respect and help make change in the community of Flint. There was many that cared about being there, and was doing it by choice and not force. I was proud to be a part of a huge group of CMU students that came together to help make an impact. It meant a lot to me to be a part of Be My Neighbor Day. I guess it’s just easy for me to get irritated by egocentric attutidues and behaviors. I just wanted to speak up so many times to others, but I held it back due to it wasn’t the right environment to state my personal opinion on service.

I held onto the positive. Regardless of my little annoyed moments, I was so thankful for the opportunity to volunteer in the Flint community. It was my first time in the area, and I loved seeing it. I volunteered with my mentee, and it was a great bonding experience for us. We talked a lot about what we are passionate about, and we both learned how to ignore the ignorance of some and focus on why we where there.

It was crazy to see how much food the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan packaged and gave out, it was cool to be a part of that process for a day. Then it was amazing to see what Catholic Charities was currently doing, and to hear their end dreams and goals. Talking to people that work at Catholic Charities made me realize how many are in need in Flint, MI. It also made me think about working with a non-profit. Many say that non-profit organizations consists of not enough pay with the overtime work, but taking this trip made me realize it’s worth. Working with non-profits like that changes their communities one person and one family at a time. That makes my heart so happy. What Catholic Charities is doing is truly amazing and inspiring. It gave me hope to help others in need, and that I too can make an impact to so many like they do. I can find a career that will change the world, and that I will go home happy everyday because of it.

Like stated early, Flint is a community that is in need of many resources. But what I have been learning on service trips is the people in need are the ones that give the most. The underprivileged and the under loved individuals are the people with the biggest hearts and the most faith; that’s truly life changing to see. There is such a huge stigma placed on the people in the lower class, and the homeless. That stigma needs to be broken, I strongly believe that. So many are in need and so many of those people have the biggest hearts, so why aren’t we helping when we can?

When I was standing outside of Catholic Charities, an older man walked out of the building who was there receiving services. The man said “Hello”, and I said back “Hello how are you!” He said in such an uplifting and happy tone of voice, “I am SOO blessed, and God Bless you mam!” 

That moment is something I will never forget. His positive attitude is contagious, and I am sure he has many reasons to complain or to be upset at the world, but instead he doesn’t worry about that. He is just blessed to be on this earth. He made me realize how much I personally need to work on for being thankful and grateful for everyday. That’s what I want everyone that served on this trip to take, love.

 

Servant Leadership: Theory Application

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A theory I learned this year in my Leadership class was the Servant Leadership theory, and I strongly believe in this theory. Servant Leadership is a strong focus on your followers. By being a servant leader you need to have behaviors of conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting followers first, helping followers grow and succeed, behaving ethically, empowering, and creating value for the community. I believe strongly in these behaviors. I am the person that always put others before myself and that’s why I think I am so passionate about servant leadership. Servant leadership is all about the wants, needs, and desire of your followers, or people you are serving. It is a time to put away your personally needs and beliefs and focus on the goals of the ones you are serving.

This year my leadership class took a service drip to Detroit, Michigan. For details of this trip please see my recent blog post on this trip. This trip was a prime example of the servant leadership since our whole weekend in Detroit was about serving the people of Detroit and helping them with their dream of making Detroit a better place. During the Detroit trip we put all our problems and difference aside and served the people of Detroit. We listened to the students at Jalen Rose Leadership Academydetroit.3 and just helped them develop as leaders in Detroit. That was the biggest part of servant leadership during Detroit, we really put those students in our hands. We put our follower first and that is so important.

I don’t think servant leadership is just seen in service or volunteer trips, it can also be seen in leaders in just their every day lives. I believe Dan Gaken and Jesi Parker Ekonen are perfect examples of servant leaders. They work in the Leadership Institute here at Central Michigan University and all they do is serve students here on campus. They focus and listen to their followers and help guide them into chasing their dreams. All they do is focus on creating better leaders here at CMU. They never think of themselves, and that is huge in servant leadership. They believe it is important to serve others, and I know that my cohort can not thank them enough for all their service they put into us.

Servant Leadership is the biggest leadership theory that I follow. I want to make it clear that I did not choose this theory because it was the easiest, it’s because it means the most to me. I am a servant leader and hope to continue that into my career like Dan and Jesi. My definition of leadership is helping and inspiring others. I just strongly believe in making this world a better place one person at a time. I never want to miss an opportunity where I can help others. My passion is helping others at all times and that is what servant leadership is all about.

LEAD TEAM Reflection

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A lead team is a committee that Leader Advancement Scholar recipients are placed on for the school year. My Lead Team was the Michigan Fall Special Olympics. I explained my experience at the Michigan Fall Special Olympics in a previously blog post that you can click here to read.

My Lead Team moved pretty fast paced since our event of the Michigan Fall Special Olympics was a weekend in September. So our team meetings were just pretty much informational meetings about what our position was at the Olympic Games. It all happened so face and was very exciting.

I am actually so happy that I got placed on the Special Olympics Lead Team because it created a passion for me that I never knew I had.IMG_7415 It opened my eyes to a lot. I got to meet so many amazing athletes and roles models that weekend that truly inspired me. At one point we got to play with young athletes and that’s where I found my inspiration to decide to follow a career path of working with children. I met a little girl named Abi (relationship also explained in previous blog) that changed my life. I just can’t describe my feelings of that day, I loved every second of it.

That weekend gave me the opportunity to find a passion I did not know of it. Now I am trying to start an RSO on campus that just volunteers with children at local Mount Pleasant School Districts. It has also made me realize that I want to work with children for the rest of my life. My major is Psychology with minors of Sign Language and Child Development. My experience at Michigan Fall Special Olympics just really developed me into the person I want to be. It inspired me to live every day happier. It taught me so much in just one little weekend. It taught me to embrace differences. It should be how important child are in our lives. The Special Olympics was just an amazing opportunity I will never forget.

And I didn’t stop there. I volunteered at Special Olympic basketball tournaments and also play unified kick ball. This summer I am planning to go to LA to volunteer at the Special Olympic World Games.

Special Olympics is just an experience you can’t understand unless you experience it yourself. I will never forget that weekend.