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Service is an effective means of change

Dark soil caked underneath my fingernails and seedling in my hand, rays of sunshine beating down from the sky, the smell of fresh produce in the air and laughter roaring from all directions, I looked up to see a row of houses that had been abandoned and boarded up to be demolished. The juxtaposition between the life I was holding in my hands, in the form of small sprouts that would soon become brightly colored vegetables, and the devastation 50 feet away from me was uncanny. This observation hit me several times over the course of my three-day service trip in Detroit.

I had the privilege of co-leading a service trip to Detroit over fall break with Kate Longo ’18. Seven intelligent and observant students and Alex Serna-Wallender, our fantastic campus chaplain, joined Kate and me on the alternative break trip with the intention of making an impact outside of the Wooster community. We partnered with an organization called Repair the World (RTW).

With locations in several major cities in the United States, RTW is a non-profit organization that seeks to bring about community-wide change, focusing on food and education injustices in these cities. The organization gets its name from the Jewish value of Tikun Olam, which translates to “repair the world.”

On our trip, we spent the majority of our time working in urban gardens. We gained new perspectives about the importance of urban gardens that supply fresh produce in the middle of communities where public transportation is incredibly sparse. While we were planting garlic or building a green house, we had the opportunity to talk to the founders of the urban gardens and members of the community who lived by the gardens who had come to join us in the work. We heard incredible stories of entrepreneurs starting with a plot of overgrown grass and turning the land into spots where neighbors come together to harvest vegetables, tend to animals and share each others’ company. One man, Magnetic Sun, explained to us that everything that he has learned about agriculture he taught himself from reading every book he could get his hands on and connecting with other urban gardeners.

Thoughts about how ubiquitous poverty and food scarcity are in the United States are often overwhelming. They often inhibit me from determining what clear-cut things I can do to make a small impact on those problems. However, there are things I am doing to begin to repair the world, and, if I can do it, you can do it. Wooster is an anomaly in that we get a full week off for fall break and two weeks off for spring break. Participating in a service trip over one of these two breaks is a great start. I have been on three alternative break trips, and every time I return from the trip feeling fulfilled and rejuvenated.

If participating in a service trip is not your cup-of-(volun)tea(ring), look for opportunities to volunteer in your local community. I find that residents residing in struggling communities have fascinating stories to share. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way to listen to and learn from these experts.

It is important to recognize that the people who know what any community needs most are the members of that community, not volunteers or local political leaders. Step outside of your comfort zone, talk to members of your surrounding community and take a (Michi)gander down a path of possibility.

Sydney Fine, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at

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