Semester of Service: Introduction to the Blog

Abigail Henderson ’14 is taking a leave of absence this semester do what she calls “A Semester of Service” in Philadelphia. She is keeping a blog as she goes and will share selected posts with The Daily Gazette on a weekly basis. You are invited to read the full blog at semesterofservice.wordpress.com. To give readers a better idea about what she writes and why, the first installment is all about the blog itself:

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Who: I am (in no particular order) 21 years old, white, queer, middle-class, privileged, from the Midwest, a student at an elite liberal arts college, a lover, a learner, tall, female, an Ultimate Frisbee player, a Cognitive Science major, an artist, a linguist, a biologist, sentimental, passionate, self-critical, a human being.

What: A semester of service and volunteer work in all sectors, using my time and resources for others as much as possible.

Where: Philadelphia, PA

When: Fall 2013

Why: I want to explore the world of service in hopes of coming to some conclusions about how and where I can do the most good. Also, because I can; I am fortunate enough to have no prohibiting responsibilities or needs at the moment.

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So what exactly are you doing? 

– Animal Shelter: Washing dishes, walking dogs, feeding cats, etc.

abigail cat

– Teaching English as a Second Language to Spanish-speaking immigrant restaurant workers.

– Working at a community house and garden in North Philadelphia called Serenity House, mostly weeding the garden, helping with chores, moving furniture, and helping with the website.

– Leading a Drama Club for 4th-8th graders once a week at one of the Philadelphia public schools.

– Doing Education Policy research with Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), recently looking at test scores, budget crises, and enrollment procedures for charter schools.

– Working with a group at Swarthmore to create an online Anti-Oppression Resource Guide with relevant definitions, articles, organizations, etc.

– Being a volunteer librarian in one of the Philadelphia public elementary schools.

– Random other things, including helping a senior with yard work, giving free massages, and anything else that pops up.

Goals for the semester:

– Figure out what level I work best at: individual or systemic? Preventative or corrective?

– Find my balancing point between self-care and service work.

– Help some people and animals. 🙂

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Why I’m keeping a blog:

– People want to hear about my semester and I’d rather spend in-person conversations discussing new things instead of repeating old things.

abigail serenity

– Many people have expressed an interest in doing what I’m doing but are unable to because of school, time, money, etc. I want to make this journey not just for myself, but for others as well.

– I want this semester to be recorded, for myself as well as for others.

What I don’t want this blog to be:

– Documentation of a privileged person’s journey into the “urban” world to do charitable things and write about them in hopes of a few good pats on the back.

– Effectively a journal, that no one reads except for me and one or two others.

– A weekly distillation of everything I have experienced, so that there is only room to mention everything and not to delve deeply into anything.

What I do want this blog to be:

– A space for me to process the things I will be seeing, doing, thinking, and feeling on a given day.

– A way to be held accountable.

– A place to explore complex problems and hopefully get critical feedback and start discussions.

Who I hope reads this blog:

– Close friends and family

– Acquaintances I sometimes talk to

abigail kids

– Complete strangers

– People with varying views/opinions

– People who will be inspired

– People who will challenge me

What I hope that I do with this blog:

– Write. Often and honestly.

– Learn. I often make connections and gain a deeper level of understanding when I am forced to synthesize information and put words on a page.

– Share. I want to share my experiences, my insights, my problems, and my heart with anyone who may be able to also learn and grow from them.

What I hope that others do with this blog:

– Read it. And not get caught in the trap of “Oh I really want to but I was busy last week and I missed a couple posts so now I have to catch up completely but I don’t have time to do that right now so I’ll never really get around to it.” If I post too much, just read the latest entry and call it a day. If I post too little, give me a poke. 🙂

– Comment. Feedback is very important to me, as it reminds me that people are reading, it keeps me accountable, and it opens doors for conversations with people from all viewpoints.

– Share. If one of my posts catches your eye or your heart, you are welcome to share it with anyone and everyone.

– Challenge. If I write something that is hurtful or ignorant or otherwise not okay, call me on it. Without rain, a tree will not grow.

I believe strongly in communication. If you have any questions, confusion, or ideas, please share at any time. 🙂

Abigail Henderson can be reached at ahender1@swarthmore.edu.

Photos courtesy of Abigail Henderson ’14.


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