This story is the first in a new ongoing web series "Stories of Service" featuring personal stories of service, learning and civic engagement by students involved with the Pace Center for Civic Engagement. Follow along and discover what service is all about at Princeton.
Piles and piles of carrots stared back at us: hundreds of pounds of donated carrots that needed to be packaged into family-sized amounts for the food pantry. Behind us, a cooking lesson about healthy eating on a minimal budget was being conducted, and in the front of the room, at least a hundred individuals waited patiently for their families’ monthly groceries. We quickly got to work, and in the space of a few hours our Community Action group made a small but significant dent in the pantry’s daily tasks. When we left the building we felt as though we had actually made a difference in someone’s life because this month someone would go less hungry than usual. Later that day, we sat together and discussed how much more still needed to be done at the pantry—more than a day’s worth of service, more than a week’s worth even—and why our work nevertheless was meaningful.
This summer was my third summer participating in the Pace Center’s orientation experience called Community Action (CA). CA is all about orienting freshman to the communities in and around Princeton, conducting some meaningful service for a week, and continuing beyond the week through the Pace Center and its many civic-minded programs. When peers ask me why I continued past freshman year in CA to become a CA leader, I explain that the trip doesn’t just orient freshman; it orients any Princeton student to the service that can be done in and around Princeton. “It starts with a week…” is the slogan for CA and the epitome of my relationship to CA. On every trip I’ve taken, I learned more and more about service and about myself. As a freshman, I went on a trip with the Health group and learned about issues in the Princeton and Hamilton areas regarding elderly care. As a sophomore I led a group that explored the environment and agriculture around Princeton and discovered how important farmers are to food pantries and soup kitchens and how to be more sustainable in my own life. This past summer, I led a group to the lower east side of NYC and helped renovate theater spaces and package food for a food pantry.
What has been most meaningful about CA has been the knowledge I’ve gained about my own relationship to service. I learned how moved I could be when the work I am doing can be connected to an impact in the community. When the freshmen have their “aha” moment and see the connection, I feel doubly moved . On this trip, as we packaged hundreds of carrots, we could see the difference being made in the fight against hunger and poverty. I first joined CA as a non-insect-filled alternative to the orientation Outdoor Action trip, but I have stayed involved with Pace and CA because of the service and the deep bonding that results from working together towards a meaningful goal. It starts with a week, and at least for me, it lasts for years.