Making New Things Familiar

March 06, 2020

Each semester, Learning by Giving asks students to write about their experiences in the classroom. For this exercise, students were asked, "are you able to see the need in your community, or is it invisible?". Our winning blog post is from Meghan O’Brien of Valparaiso University. 

Coming to a school hundreds of miles away from home has presented many blessings and challenges. When I first got to Valparaiso University, I wondered how one girl from a completely different place could make a change. For a while, this question seemed too daunting to even think about. I shied away from learning about my community and resorted to staying within the university bubble. But, this came with no reward. If I was not learning about my community, what was the point of even coming to this new place to study? My image of the full college experience definitely included knowing the community in which I became a part of. This turned my thoughts around and prompted me to take action. 

From serving with my sorority to giving back with the religious groups of which I am a part, my eyes have been opened to the needs of this community. Several courses at the university have also provided me with the opportunity to learn about the needs of the Valparaiso community. In a course I took last semester, I had the opportunity to work with Project Neighbors, a nonprofit organization located in Valparaiso with the goal of putting roofs over the heads of this community. Working with this organization opened my eyes to the needs that exist every day in my small college town. I had no idea that the cost of living in Valparaiso was more than most residents can afford. I never thought about the families that struggle to send their children to daycare while they work to provide for the family. Thinking about men that go from church to church each night to have a shelter to sleep in was not a topic that had ever crossed my mind. The needs that I was informed of last semester have prompted my immersion into the community in the course I am currently enrolled in. 

While learning about the needs of the community this semester in my course titled “Traditions of Giving and Serving,” my eyes have been opened to more needs in my surrounding community. I have learned that there are numerous needs within the community, all of which are of great importance. Knowing the fact that there are numerous needs presents an additional question and challenge: how can all of these needs be addressed and solved? Pondering this question has helped my class to explore different means of service and urgency. Knowing that some needs can be immediately relived while others need ongoing support has helped us better understand how we can be of service to the community through giving. By visiting different organizations and corresponding with members of their leadership team, we are taking small steps to learn about what needs are prevalent. It is through genuine conversation and interactions that we will learn of the needs that exist in this community.

Through our research and conversations with organizations thus far, we have come to know that not all needs can be seen on the surface level. It is easy to see needs like homelessness, but it is sometimes impossible to see needs like mental health and substance abuse recovery. No need is too small and it is rewarding to be in a community where all of these needs are being taken seriously by numerous nonprofit organizations.