Learning to Serve

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”- Gandhi

For the final three weeks of my senior of high school I had the opportunity to participate in a service learning project through a local branch of Habitat for Humanity.  I learned a lot about the power of service during that experience.  Not only was I able to help work with an organization that builds homes in low-income areas but I learned about myself by, as Gandhi said, serving others.  At SMS we try and instill in our students the importance of service within the context of their own learning and as part of their growing understandings of citizenship, empathy and responsibility.   We believe it is essential to model for our students our own commitment to serve others and I thought I would share with you two examples of how SMS staff-members have done exactly this.
Nearly three years ago, the Caribbean nation of Haiti, suffered a devastating earthquake.  The country, already known to be the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, was crippled by the quake and its aftermath. Homelessness, disease, malnutrition, dehydration, impassable roads, leveled buildings and lack of adequate healthcare were among the major challenges.  As we are learning here in New Jersey, the recovery and rebuilding following a natural disaster takes the financial and political support of local and national government and the already existing network of support that includes representatives from the healthcare, construction, and service industries.  This all takes time.  In Haiti, time moves very slowly due to the lack of adequate government, poor infrastructure, and the overwhelming nature of rebuilding a country that was already impoverished.

In order to get adequate care and help stop the spread of disease, the Haitian people depend on outside organizations (NGO's) to send trained personnel, supplies and equipment.  One such organization, Nurchers, is a local organization that is committed to teaching the people of impoverished areas the essential foundations of healthcare so that the people can eventually provide it themselves. The group's goal is to "spread healthcare wisdom globally, one village at a time."

In the summer of 2012, a group of local nurses, including SMS nurse Mrs. Lil Farrell, visited Haiti for five days- bringing with them loads of supplies, and their nursing expertise that they utilized to not only treat hundreds of suffering Haitians but to also teach local leaders essential skills that will allow them to provide adequate care for years to come.  Of the experience Mrs. Farrell reports that the Haitian people were "amazing, lovely and appreciative."  The Nurchers group basically set up a "clinic" (four standing concrete walls with a tin roof), and provided assessments and screenings for the local population.  The nurses also worked with local volunteers, teaching them how to provide basic first aid, and to identify common ailments such as dehydration and infection- especially prevalent in babies and children- with the goal of ensuring that a basic element of care be available to the people long after the experts left.
Nurse Lil-  doing her part in making one small part of the world a better place and paying it forward to the people of Haiti.  Please be sure to ask Mrs. Farrell about her experience this summer in Haiti.  

In the late summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, damaging many coastal communities and nearly erasing one of America's great cities off of the map.  A thousand miles away, a group of Sparta teachers took it upon themselves to do what they could to help and in April of 2006 the group, including current SMS staffmembers: Robert Gilmartin, Barbara Gilmartin, Jason Kopp, Danielle Kopp and Michelle Hertzberg, went to New Orleans and spent their Spring Break volunteering with the organization, Catholic Charities.

The teachers were tasked with tearing down the internal walls and cabinets of several flood-damaged homes.  The picture above shows the proud group shortly after wrapping up work on one of the homes.  This house was one of the thousands of homes in the New Orleans area that were destroyed by flooding and mold.  The only way to save the home and to bring the family who lived there back was to tear the house apart and to start again.  Thanks to this group of Spartan volunteers one New Orleans family could return home.  Following Hurricane Katrina, it is estimated that over one million people volunteered to help rebuild the Gulf Coast, helping to change the narrative of hopelessness and despair to one of resolve and community.  I guess that makes each of these teachers- one in a million.

Volunteering and community service are great ways to learn about yourself, connect with people from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, and experience the feeling of making a difference.  So next time your local scout/brownie troop, place of worship, team or other organization is looking for youth volunteers- go for it, the world needs more people like you.

Related Resources:

Interested in learning more about nursing as a career?

Volunteering opportunities for students and families:
Pass It Along

Special Olympics of New Jersey

Sparta Middle School's Builders Club


United Way

Youth Service America


New Orleans Post-Katrina: