Serving | Teen Ink


October 27, 2007
By Anonymous

Service is part of my heartbeat. I am always trying to learn new and effective ways to improve my community. Service Learning is a nationwide organization founded to improved communities through the service of youth. Our town’s division of Service Learning planned a trip to Simon Gratz High School in North Philadelphia, which has one of the most comprehensive service learning centers in the United States. I went there to learn about the program. I ended up learning about so much more
My principal drove us to the school in a district van, and as I entered a huge partitioned brick building, the first things I saw were two security guards and metal detectors. After being searched, we were led inside. As we climbed the four flights of stairs, I felt unsafe. I had never been in an inner-city school. Was someone going to open fire or pull a knife?
As we were led down a hall and through a set of doors, I immediately felt as if I had entered another world. This was the service learning center of SGHS, a world that would change my life. I saw groups of students at makeshift computer stations. I couldn’t recall ever being in a room filled entirely with people of another race. The students intrigued me. Each was working on an outstanding service project. One girl was 17 and pregnant, and instead of quitting school, she had turned her senior service project into something useful for her: prenatal aerobics. Another student was working with a group to fix up a house nearby in North Philly. They were turning it into a student center. I would learn about their projects and then leave; I didn’t ask questions. How could I relate to someone so different than me? It seemed unlikely that we had anything in common.

After the students left, the teacher/coordinator told us of the center and how teens from all over Philadelphia had been changing the city through service since the 90s. She told us that we too could change our community. As I took notes, I started to realize that maybe these kids were not so different from me. Though from completely different backgrounds, we all shared one common goal: to make the world a better place though service and to lead by example. We spent the rest of the day learning how to become effective leaders and sharing our stories. Before I was ready, it was time for us to leave the inner city of Philadelphia and to return to our quiet little town in the Pocono Mountains.
As I walked out of Simon Gratz, I was no longer afraid, I was no longer unsure. I knew that I had just left behind a community of people who weren’t violent or scary, but much like those in my own home community, safe and loving. On my journey to North Philadelphia, I learned that stereotyping is one of the worst things that we can do. This trip taught me to hold the utmost respect for people and things with which I am not familiar and that to learn more about them is an undoubtedly rewarding experience.

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