Lighting My Candle
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Lighting My Candle
Think of the most self-rewarding activity one could possibly do. Is it achieving a life-long dream? Completing the nearly impossible task of following a new year's resolution? Or is it something simpler, like helping a child with his or her homework, or giving a homeless person a warm meal? The answer depends on one's values in life, but for the most part, it's safe to say that the more correct answer would be the simpler activities. Last May, I was presented with an opportunity: an opportunity that would change my life forever. That opportunity was to travel to New Orleans on a leadership field trip to a conference and implement a service project that would benefit the community. After having attended the conference, I have drawn a conclusion about the values of life: the most important thing anyone can and should do during a lifetime is community service.
When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans in August 2005 as a Category 4 hurricane, citizens became homeless and in the aftermath, it seemed like nobody was doing anything to help. At some point, many people across the nation began to lose hope in the city, until community activists stepped up to the plate. When community service participants began their work to rebuild the once spectacular city, other people began to take notice. Some citizens across the country even took the necessary step to financially and physically help the victims by rebuilding and funding projects to rejuvenate the city. Activities like these have sparked numerous community service organizations to develop across the nation. One such organization that has become interested in the cause is the Middle College National Consortium.
Once a year, the MCNC holds a conference at a different location where Middle and Early College High Schools from around the country collaborate and focus on an issue facing society. For 2008, it was decided that the conference would be held in New Orleans and the theme would be "Lighting Your Candle through Community Service." When I was told that I could apply to become a participant in the consortium, I immediately filled out the application. A month later, I was notified that I had been selected as one of the eight students from my school that would go. Our team of students held several meetings and communicated with other schools around the country throughout the following months and in May, we were on our way to New Orleans.
When the first meeting with all of the participating schools was held, we found out just what kind of service activity we would be doing: we were going to restore the plants and habitat surrounding a community church. At first, I thought to myself, "I came all the way to New Orleans just to plant shrubs?" Of course, once we finished the project several days later, my perspective had changed dramatically. Not only had we made the church look appealing again, but I discovered just how rewarding community service is. As we were planting, citizens who lived in the area continued to stop by and admire what we were doing. That feeling, for lack of a better term, is just awesome.
During our stay in New Orleans, not only did we plant shrubs at the church, but we toured parts of the city that were still in despair. Even though Katrina had happened nearly 3 years earlier, the number of areas that were still in anguish was upsetting. The areas we traveled to included the Lower and Upper 9th Wards: the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. Houses were still gutted, FEMA trailers were abandoned, and the foundations of where houses once stood were scattered in various lots. Just seeing the devastation that still existed even after three years was overwhelming. On our last day of our stay in New Orleans, we had a final closing meeting where everyone discussed how they benefitted from completing the service activities. Just listening to everyone else speak made me realize how much I enjoy doing community service and how I want it to be a part of me for the rest of my life.
Since the journey to New Orleans, I have joined my high school's Key Club, an organization in which high school students perform service activities in their local communities, and I've been enjoying every minute of it. Words cannot describe that feeling of accomplishment you get when you help someone else. If you've never participated in a community service activity or program, go do something! Volunteering at Delta's Child Development center or even an animal shelter is a good way to get started. Just like I stated earlier, it's the simple things that matter.