I have two regrets from my four phenomenal years as a student at St. Thomas: that I never studied abroad and never participated in a VISION (Volunteers in Service Inter-nationally or Nationally) trip. Then, as an assistant director of the Alumni Association, I was given the opportunity to lead a VISION trip last January to Selma, Ala.
It changed me. I will never be the same after that trip. It opened my eyes to what I alone am capable of doing.
Just think about it — 10 strangers pile into a van for a 24-hour drive to a small Southern town. We are completely out of our element. For seven days we do manual labor, meet people very different from us, spend time with kids who lack any positive role models in their life, and walk through the streets where the civil rights movement thrived in the ’60s.
A week passes and we get back in our van — now as close as brothers and sisters, our hearts hurting and our minds opened to the world. We arrive back on the St. Thomas campus and return to our daily routines. Nothing’s changed. Or has it?
I had a very hard time coming back. I wanted to stay. I don’t know what tried to keep me there — the interaction with children at the youth center, the compassion and devotion that I saw in Brother Frank and the full-time volunteers, or the sense of community and strong faith of the people we worked with and served.
In time the feeling has faded some, but not enough to forget all that I experienced. I will never forget that — because it has become a part of who I am. It has driven me to not only stay connected to the people in Selma, but to take a look at my own community. I have seen that I can make a difference here — in my own backyard through opportunities like tutoring, serving the homeless at Loaves and Fishes or becoming a Big Sister. On April 8, for example, the Selma groups from this year and years past got together for a day of service in St. Paul with Habitat for Humanity.
I think that sometimes we need to go away to see what our community is like. I am also completely amazed by the students we have on this campus. Our group had so many different attitudes, qualities and skills. They all had so much of themselves to contribute and we grew together.
The students I have met through the VISION program gave me hope. They inspired me to do more — to serve every day — to make it part of my routine and my future.