The Group

The participants were composed of a combination of community members active in service or service based-careers and college students active in serving the community.

The Program

The program was a discussion of the differences that exists between those who serve and those who are served. The discussion included a reading and conversation using the poem "Theme for English B," written by Langston Hughes. 

The conversation about the poem was followed by a simulation. In this simulation the members were given a list of 10 scenarios in which various people were requesting monetary assistance. The simulation asked for the members to choose eight to give funding to, ranking the scenarios one through eight, the first getting assistance first, followed by the second, the third, and so on. 

This was also followed by a conversation. When discussing the reading and the scenario a large emphasis was put on what sort of differences exist between server and the served, and how this affects the ability to effectively serve.

Overview

The discussion began with everyone, including the facilitators, introducing themselves and describing the kind of service they were engaged in. After this “Theme for English B” was read aloud. The conversation began with a general, open-ended question; “what did you find like or find interesting about the poem?” This elicited an awkward response for the discussion members, which was foreseen. The goal of the question was really to get people thinking about what stood out to them about the poem. We proceeded by asking a series of planned questions about what kind of differences existed between the two characters in the poem and how that affected their relationship. 

The purpose of the gathering was "to step out of our daily routine and reflect on why we do what we do." The discussion was furthered by reading of “Theme For English B” by Langston Hughes. The major themes brought up by the poem, and addressed by the group, were identities and differences. Everyone was invited to share any experience of working with people from different backgrounds in their workplaces. The notion of how one’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, culture, and other environmental factors can shape one’s identity became the focus of discussion. 

One of the major questions asked in this section was, what do we most need to know about the people we work with/serve? The response concluded that before someone judges someone else, they should know their personal experiences. Many of the participants believed that race played a negligible role in comparison. 

The group then shifted gears and moved into discussing another form of service—giving. This part involved an activity that required each participant to rank, in order of importance, a list of 10 different cases of people that are in need for money. This prompted the question—who should we give to? The participants pointed out that while some of the cases were obvious and easy to allocate money to, others required more information. One of the participants, a social worker, stressed her desire for more information. She expressed that she felt it important not to judge people by their race or culture. She asserted that each person must be treated as a separate individual, shaped by their personal life experiences, and not judged by superficial assumptions. 

The evening ended with a question that circulated the room; each participant answered the question: why do you do what you do? Response included “to make an impact” ”to make situation hopeful for those who don’t have, "it is gratifying," "to learn from others." It was a perfect way to wrap up an evening full of discussion and learning. One discussion members, a nursing-home volunteer, brought up a quote he said he based his life around. This quote, by Margaret Mead, states: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Another participant, an EMT, described his work as giving hope. He told the group that when he knows when he and the other first-responders arrive on the scene, it brings hope, and that hope he feels really makes a difference for the person.

Next Time

One of the major things we would have liked to change was time management. A large part of our time was taken up with the first activity which left little time for our second activity.

Additionally it may have been more effective to have our second activity before the first. The second activity, the simulation, sparked conversation nearly immediately. This was most likely due to the fact that it was easier to relate to real-world situations than to the prose of Hughes. Having the simulation first may have made it easier to jump into the issues brought out in "Theme for English B."

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