Mechanical Engineering BS with a minor in Mathematics
What is your most memorable service experience?
Recently, I led an Alternative Break Program through the Richter Center and Friends for Civic Engagement at Saint Paul Catholic Newman Center. At the Newman Center, we worked on building shelves and laying concrete in order to help the Newman Center become a monthly food distribution center for local families. The Newman Center has been looking at becoming a distribution center for a few years now but did not previously have the space. The shelves made it possible to bring pallets of food into the storage space where it can then be sorted and the next morning distributed. The concrete was in an outdoor space that had lots of damaged and uneven concrete, so this concrete leveled the space improved safety. The space is currently used for small events and activities, but with a full concrete pad, a group of barbers can be brought in for free haircuts to be given in conjunction with another program, the Food Recovery Network‘s Friday Meal.
What did you learn?
From this experience I developed both tangible skills as well as an intrinsic appreciation for my community. Walking into the experience, I had never laid concrete or built custom shelving before. I understood how each is created but I had never experienced either personally. Of course the two projects were not as simple as they had first seemed. Pouring concrete was a big challenge because you need to eliminate air bubbles as much as possible but it doesn’t always work. Plus, when finishing the concrete, it becomes very firm and you really have to muscle the tool. With the shelving, the biggest challenge was reaching where the screws went on the highest shelf (8 feet). You really have to trust your team that everyone is doing their job right. I think this really brought us as a team closer together.
What impact did you make?
The initial impact was that shelving was brought into better organize the storage space and concrete was laid to prevent anyone using the patio from injuring themselves. But the real impact is what happens next. The development of the food distribution program is almost complete and the church plans to begin distributing monthly starting mid-to-late summer of 2018. For the families connected to the Newman Center, receiving the 3-4 meals once a month is huge and if it continues to grow into a program that becomes a twice monthly distribution that 6-8 meals that food-insecure families would have access to. That is the difference between making on two incomes and making rent on three or four incomes. The concrete will allow individuals without the ability to get haircuts access to a really dignifying experience. Recently, I was looking in the mirror and thought to myself, “I need to go get a haircut. My hair is getting a little bit long and I feel like it looks a little unkempt, and I know when I finally go get that haircut I’ll feel like I look better and more presentable.” Trying to get a job with unkempt hair has to be such a difficult experience because, not only you feel like your hair is not well taken care, it could also be detrimental due to any biases that the interviewer brings to the meeting.
How did this service impact you?
Outside of learning about building shelves and laying concrete, my reflection on the service has furthered my appreciation for the blessings of my life. I alluded to this when I discussed the impact on the community because of haircuts and how dignifying they are. This project has made me appreciate what I have even more and has given me more respect for those who don’t always appear put-together from the outside.