Saturday, September 12, 2009

There's Always Somebody Somewhere

There's always somebody somewhere doing something to try to make things better. A lot of the time, there are multiple somebodies close to the same where doing different things to try to make things better. My goal while in Little Rock is to be less of homebody and to participate in as many things as the school has to offer. Today that meant going to the Central High National Historic Site to be prepared to volunteer at the 52nd anniversary Symposium on Social Issues. Today that also meant NOT attending Peanut Butter Plan event to help the homeless happening at the same time. Which takes me to one of the questions I frequently ask myself about community service: What if everybody who wanted to do some good got organized and prioritized? Could we actually knock some of these issues out completely?

Community service sometimes feels like playing whack-a-mole at the carnival. A problem or issue pops up and gets our attention so we focus on solving it, briefly. Then a different problem or issue pops up, so we focus on that one, briefly. And then another pops up, and then the first one we focused on pops back up again, and so on, and so on.

One of the reasons I came to the Clinton School is that I'm hoping to get a better understanding of the underlying sources of all of the problems and issues; I want to understand the machinery of the game. Then I'd like to pull the plug on as many of those moles as possible. Permanently.

For example, what if everyone everywhere who donated any of their time or money to any cause at all decided that, instead of spreading their resources, they would pump all of that money and time into Habitat for Humanity for a period of say, a month. Would all of the needs of Habitat for Humanity be filled by such a massive influx of resources? And then the following month everyone could choose a different organization and do the same thing. If we were actually able to eliminate the needs of some organizations, the next month we'd have a surplus of resources that could either go to solving multiple issues or reduce the time needed to solve the problem of the month.

Not realistic or feasible I know. But it's something I like to daydream about.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Listening to Gravity

The end of the second full week of school seems like as good a time as any to try to summarize the experience so far. Meeting and Reading is the briefest summary I can give. I think it's fair to say that one strategy employed by the Clinton School in preparing its students to do Public Service is to introduce the students to many people currently serving the public. We, the Class of 2011, have met politicians, philanthropists and each other. We've done too much Reading already for me to ignore it in any summary, but it's not nearly as interesting as the Meeting we've done. And Reading doesn't seem to be unique to the Clinton School; it's a staple of most graduate school programs.
The two most daunting aspects of the early stage of my journey are 1) A lack of vision and 2) An overwhelming amount of information.
Like many of my students at the beginning of their Make a Difference projects, I have a great desire to do some good, but no idea where to start. When I was the teacher I tried to give them ideas by having them watch movies, like Emmanuel's Gift and Paper Clips and Invisible Children, and read articles about people like Chad Pregracke. Now that I'm the student I recognize that all of those examples can be very overwhelming.
My current (and only) strategy for dealing with feeling overwhelmed is to listen closely to what I'm drawn most strongly towards. After listening to an ambassador, two congressmen, a political strategist and two philanthropists, I recognize that the philanthropists have had the most impact on me. They were good speakers, but definitely not the most dynamic of the ones we've heard. It was their message and not the delivery that has me most intrigued.
They spoke from the perspective of large grant-giving organizations who see doing good on both large and small scales. They spoke about trying to encourage sustainable community health through supporting indigenous philanthropic groups (small, local organizations).
By recognizing my reaction to their comments I think I may have taken the first steps towards developing a vision.