My Turning Point Was Inspired By Service-Learning

May 25, 2012

Elena BallamToday’s turning point story is written by Elena Ballam, the Volunteer Center Program Manager for Community Thread.

I like to think of my turning point as a service-learning success story. I grew up in a small, middleclass Iowa town. Poverty existed, but was not visible, and as a result, I grew up with very few personal experiences with diversity or different social classes. My parents, however, did an excellent job of teaching us about the world around us, through books, service trips and sponsoring third-world children through Compassion International. As a result, I grew up somewhat aware of social issues, but not yet inspired to take action.

When I went to college just north of Boston, all freshmen were required to volunteer 15 hours as part of our freshman seminar course. I signed up to volunteer with the homeless population in Boston, serving a free meal and distributing warm clothing Saturday mornings in the Boston Commons. Fifteen hours came and went, and I continued to volunteer. I began to get to know several of the homeless individuals that showed up, and my heart was touched by their stories. Spending time in class reflecting on my volunteering, as well as hearing about the experiences of my classmates, made me realize that no matter what your skills, experience, income level, location, schedule, etc., individuals can make a difference.

I quickly sought out more opportunities to serve, including working with urban youth and changed my major to sociology. My new dream was to find a way to serve others through my career, even though I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like!

Since then, I have organized and led several service-learning trips, taught a service-learning course and served as an Americorps member with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. I currently work to mobilize volunteers in Minnesota and Wisconsin through Community Thread’s Volunteer Center. Through our volunteer programs and community-wide volunteer events, we seek not just to give people a task to do, but also to educate and to inspire.

I also volunteer as the Minnesota Volunteer Coordinator for Compassion International and sponsor two international children with my husband. In this way, I have the opportunity to connect with those beyond my community and country and provide education, food and clothing for children in need.

I know that volunteering is transformational because it transformed me and I work to bring others to that moment of change. Sometimes it takes a specific invitation, or a service requirement, to jumpstart an individual to serve. No matter the route taken to start giving back, volunteers make a huge difference each and every day. Everyone can give back, and in doing so, can transform their communities.