Why Do We Serve [Rhode Island]?

For March’s blog post, two of the VISTAs at Serve Rhode Island – Leah Glass and Corey Plante – decided to interview each other via  email to answer that question: “Why Do You Serve?” Here is what they had to say:

Corey Plante:

So tell me, Leah: why do you serve?

Leah Glass:

Downtown Providence

Well, Corey, I serve because I wanted to re-immerse myself in a city I thought I knew. I wanted to get to know a different population, one that wasn’t trapped in an ivory tower privileged bubble. I wanted to get experience working in a non-profit, to learn how to help people indirectly and how organizations work and function. I wanted to gain new skills.

How about you: why do YOU serve? What motivates you in your work?

Corey Plante:

Good question. I would say that I serve because I wanted to get to know Providence in a new light too, to really experience ALL of it. This has been my home for the last 6 or so years, and this state for my entire life, but somehow I never really knew Providence all that well. This particular position gives me a great opportunity to give back to that community, to use skills that I already have, to gain new skills, and experience a bit of the nonprofit world all while helping out a place that I’ve loved my whole life.

Cafe Zog on Wickenden Street, Providence: http://cafezog.com

And my real motivation comes from those moments when I really feel and see the importance of what I’m doing; when I see the impact that all of my “behind-the-scenes” work has in the surrounding community. Part of my position is communicating with and assisting nonprofit agencies from all around the state, so it’s really neat when I’m driving through some random Rhode Island town and see a nonprofit agency that I’ve communicated with before. Or when I’m in a cafe and I see an ad for an agency’s event, it’s really great for me. It really puts things into perspective, you know?

Leah Glass:

I know what you mean.

Corey Plante:

Yeah! So how about your motivations, then?

Leah Glass:

I would say that I’m motivated by all of RWMS [Roger Williams Middle School]. Each day I learn more and more about the obstacles this school has to institutionally overcome and the challenges it faces from every direction. The macro-level systemic stuff drives me nuts!

Roger Williams Middle School

But then I eat lunch with some middle schoolers, and I learn more about their lives, and get to know them, and bond over YA [Young Adult] books and get hugs in the hallways. It makes me think: why? Why do these particular kids have to go to this school with asbestos and dirty water and classrooms with holes in the ceilings? I just can’t stop thinking about how the education system makes it that much more unfair for these kids. So I serve for them: the kids, the teachers, the administrators, and every school that is underserved by a broken system in a country too divided to do anything substantial about it.

Corey Plante:

Yeah I think it’s important to keep the perspective manageable, to focus on the personal relationships. For me, it helps to think about the specific people I am helping. When I approach it with the mentality of, “oh I am going to save the world!” it can get overwhelming. But when I think about all the individual people out there we are helping, I find it really inspiring, especially when they decide to toss in a hug or two.

Leah Glass:

Exactly! Two more questions: what has been one of your favorite memories or moments from your year of service thus far? And how does your service impact your next steps in life?

Corey Plante:

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Volunteers help clean up debris around a Misquamicut business

Oh wow, that’s a tough one. Hmm…I think my favorite memory from my year of service would probably be from last October/November when SRI [Serve Rhode Island] scrambled to get down to Westerly to assist with Hurricane Sandy Clean Up efforts. Seeing the devastation so close to home was very unnerving and it felt uplifting to be on ground zero, so to speak, and see the hundreds and hundreds of people that came out to help. You don’t see that overwhelmingly positive kind of response every day.

Moving forward, I think that spending a year in service has been a very humbling experience in a lot of ways. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different lifestyles that I might never have encountered otherwise. It’s helped me to realize that in order for me to feel fulfilled, I need a job in which I will be able to interact with and help people, to feel that human connection. So I’ll definitely be taking that with me into my next steps, whatever they might be.

How about you? Same questions! Favorite memory/moment(s) and next steps?

Leah Glass:

Really? Using my questions again?!

Corey Plante:

Yup.

Leah Glass:

Alright, alright. This year of service has really helped me get first-hand experience at seeing how systems affect education. By learning about the Rhode Island public education system from a systems standpoint, but then working in the school with individual teachers, administrators, and students, I can see how the two influence each other, and unfortunately how the system hurts the individuals. Being able to see and experience this is so important for going forward into higher education. I particularly want to study the intersection of race and education, and this year really showed me so much.

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Students at Roger Williams Middle School receive “Well Kid Kits”, made and donated by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of RI volunteers

Off of your favorite memory, I remember when we were down in Westerly and I overheard two volunteers talking. One of them said, “We all use these beaches, we all have to pitch in to help.” It was great to see that sense of community in helping out after a disaster.

Corey Plante:

Wow that’s amazing to hear! What about your memories?

Leah Glass:

My favorite memories have been lunch time with the students. Not only to I get to get to know some really awesome middle schoolers, but we can have adult conversations about our relationships with our families and talk about greater social issues as well as who the cutest member of One Direction is. And although I’m not a teacher, there are some hidden teachable moments that come out of these conversations that I absolutely love.

Corey Plante:

That’s great! It does seem like those human moments of connection are why everyone serves. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Serve Rhode Island is the volunteer center for Rhode Island and the center for national and community service. Corey and Leah are two AmeriCorps*VISTAs in the SRI office. Corey is a Volunteer Recruitment Specialist, providing resources to SRI and its nonprofit partners. Leah is a School Program Volunteer Coordinator who manages a volunteer program at Roger Williams Middle School in South Providence.

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Corey Plante is an AmeriCorps*VISTA serving at Serve Rhode Island as a Volunteer Recruitment Specialist

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Leah Glass is an AmeriCorps*VISTA serving at Serve Rhode Island as a School Volunteer Program Coordinator

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