When I first began this internship, I knew I valued volunteerism and I knew I could write, so a blogging position with Volunteer Iowa seemed pretty fitting. My expectations were slight—with little specific direction from my supervisor, I basically had free range to write what I wanted.
What I didn’t anticipate at the beginning of this internship was how many other voices besides my own I would have the privilege to incorporate into my writing. I talked to other Drake students, local Des Moines residents, and Iowans who live outside the city—all of whom selflessly complete service work to impact their local communities in incredible ways.
I learned so much about volunteerism in the state of Iowa. As a native Minnesotan—only here by way of Drake University—I often feel a little sheltered from the community outside of the University’s campus. I haven’t gotten much engagement with local organizations, and that’s one thing that really drew me to Drake’s internship-for-credit program, which is how I found Volunteer Iowa. There are so many awesome projects happening in the Des Moines area and beyond, and I got the opportunity to speak to the people that spur the wonderful change in our surrounding communities.
There’s Dr. James Bell, who started a free clinic after recognizing the hardships of the underinsured; Deverie Kiedaisch, who pushes to increase literacy in her community, among other things; Harry and Terry Swanson, who gather furniture and household items for survivors of domestic violence; Pam Wolter, who kickstarts countless initiatives to preserve and respect the natural environment; Edi Norris, who personally mentors at-risk youth long-term; and Jamie Rusan and Brittany Freeman, two Drake University students and AmeriCorps members who fully engage in service learning alongside rigorous academic coursework.
Without this position, I never would have known about all the work that goes on to benefit social change and advocacy for the marginalized in Iowa. It really helped put my role in society into perspective.
I interviewed Volunteer Iowa’s honorees for the Volunteer Iowa Hall of Fame, so in essence, people who’ve completed incredible service work and have benefitted their communities in insurmountable ways. They’re all beacons of possibility; upon speaking to them, I gained more of an understanding of the potential I have to do similar things. And my potential is great—I can do great things, even if I start small.
I appreciated the independence I experienced throughout the entire internship process. I valued the freedom I had in constructing each opportunity into one that benefitted both myself and the people I served and worked with. Not only did I improve as a writer, but I improved as a self-starter and in my personal organization, and those improvements will extend beyond the classroom and into future careers.
Sustained service work really forces me to look more closely at myself. What is my role in this society, and what sorts of duties must I acknowledge in order to fill it properly? Service work truly causes self-reflection, and it forces you to critically examine your own privilege and what you should do with it. If I had remained within the bubble of a Drake community that I’m part of—never once stepping outside of the box to examine the surrounding community—I would have never understood so intimately that I have a responsibility to be a mindful member of my greater world.
I am so grateful for the experience I received here with Volunteer Iowa. I value this organization and all it does to strengthen volunteerism and service in Iowa—a few things that are direly needed in the current state of our world. I’m fortunate to have been able to play a part in recognizing some stellar playmakers, those who “do good” and never ask for anything in return.
I think we can all learn a few things from them—I know I have.