Stories of Service: Engaged Discovery

Tuesday, Oct 14, 2014
by Andrea D'Souza' 16

From the moment that I arrived at Princeton, the Pace Center has offered me so many opportunities for engaged discovery, opportunities to not only do something meaningful but also to ask tough questions and learn from my experiences. Some questions make us uncomfortable. Some hint at major changes that need to be made to longstanding systems. Although many of our questions will never be answered, exploring them will help us as we work towards improving the issues our society faces today.

My journey with Pace began with an immersive week of service in Community Action (CA). During high school, I spent more than 100 hours making bag lunches for the poor at my church, but I never actually saw where those meals went. During CA, my group and I lived in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia next door to the St. Francis Inn, a soup kitchen where we personally served food to community members in need. That week, I learned a lot about the realities of hunger and was challenged to ask questions about those realities. Why is food sometimes wasted at a soup kitchen? Should a soup kitchen do more to empower the community it serves?

Later in the week, I also volunteered at the Inn's thrift shop. There I met a boy who was about the same age as my younger brother. In the back of the thrift shop the boy found a book from a series that my brother liked and he was so thrilled to be able to take the book home. That day I thought a lot about how much that one book meant to him and about all the luxuries my brother and I grew up with and always took for granted. I realized then how different two children's lives could be based on their circumstances. This realization pushed me to want to join a youth-based volunteer group when I got back on campus. 

I'm now a junior and a project leader of SVC imPACT, a tutoring and mentorship group that works with sixth graders in Trenton as part of the Student Volunteers Council with the Pace Center. Through imPACT, I've learned about everything from effective leadership to background checks, but the most important thing imPACT has taught me is that there are incredibly bright students in inner city public schools that are determined and capable but are not always afforded the opportunities that they need to reach their full potential. And again, like on CA, my work keeps eliciting a lot of questions: What's the best way to motivate students? Is it more important to foster the education of students who are behind or instead encourage students who could be more challenged?

This summer, I worked with the Pace Center as a Summer Service Associate researching service at Princeton. From exploring archived Daily Princetonian articles dating back to the 1960s to visiting the public service centers at Brown and Tufts, my summer work was very hands-on and allowed me to look more deeply at what it means to make a difference. 

From my internship, to imPACT, to CA, my experiences with Pace have reminded me again and again of the importance of being actively engaged. If I had one piece of advice to give fellow volunteers, it would be to give 100 percent to your service and never stop thinking about the questions that your work raises for you.


Part of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement's weekly Stories of Service feature series. #PaceStories