Reflections of a CARECEN volunteer: Freshman Service Experience

by: Samantha Ewing, American University Freshman

AU students with CARECEN youth participants

“Starting my first year at American University, I prepared myself all summer for the experience of a lifetime. Along the way I was given all the usual sentiments of pride, and advice about college every student receives when embarking on this next chapter in life. I was told to expect speeches and icebreakers. I was prepped on ways to deal with the overwhelming amount of people I would be meeting and told the best ways to study, without sacrificing the fun only a college student could have. What I was never prepared for though, was just how much of an impact I could make, and how much of an impression could be made on me in just two days of a school mandated service program.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love community service, I truly believe that giving back to one’s community is something that strengthens not only the community but also the volunteer. So, of course when I was given the choice between Discover DC and the Freshman Service Experience here at American i jumped at the chance to serve my new-found community. As luck would have it, my randomly selected program ended up being here, at CARECEN, The Central American Resource Center in Columbia Heights DC. As a woman of Central American descent myself, I was beyond excited. Keeping in mind of course, that one can only speculate as to how much service they will actually be doing in the time-span of two days. Little did I know just how deeply I would connect with the program and how much it could change me.

Upon arriving at CARECEN, myself and my fellow volunteers were warmly greeted and promptly given an explanation as to what the organization did. In the hour or so that we listened to people speak, I learned about all the work the organization does here in DC and its work with sister organizations, in other locations across the country. Providing legal aid to people from all over the area, CARECEN is the true meaning of providing for one’s community. Not only do they help the community around them, but it was clear that they were aware of the larger problem. Executive Director, Abel Nuñez explained how helping the people here in Columbia Heights was only a portion of the amount of help was truly needed in order to make the situation better for both the people here and the people back in Central America.

The second day, myself and the other American University students were given the opportunity to speak with members of the youth group at CARECEN, high school students recently arrived to the United States and DC. In spite of having been in the United States for less than two years, the teenagers we spoke to showed a passion and excitement for school and college that I’d never seen. Having been a part of the CARECEN program they had gained confidence enough to conduct an icebreaker in English, as well as ask various questions about the college process and tell us about their hopes here in the United States.

While I went into the program skeptical, I can absolutely say that my two days at CARECEN are an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I was exposed to a group of people who work as hard as they can to give back to a such a prevalent community in the DC area. Not only did I see all the ways they were able to help the people here in the United States, but also the awareness of the real reasons problems the community faces,  as well as possible solutions to the problems and a real desire to educate the public on how they may be achieved. The experience was unbelievably eye-opening and made me realize just how much work could be done here. More so, I’ve seen first hand through CARECEN how much genuine care can help the people of the Latin American community in DC, help themselves. I hope to go back as soon as possible to volunteer and learn as much as I can about the program and the people who make the work they do possible.

Thanks to all the students who gave their time to CARECEN through the Freshman Service experience.  Best of luck during your freshman year!

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