Bear Blitz is this year’s Public Affairs Signature Event, an event that really puts students out there to learn more about the issues Springfield faces as a community, how those affect the state, country, and world, and how they also affect each and every person in their daily walk. Bear Blitz is the University sending students to the streets of Northwest Springfield, referred to as Zone 1. A result of much research and planning, The Zone 1 Blitz is a city wide effort to improve the neighborhoods of Zone 1 and make for healthier and safer living. Much of the work being done is through the Springfield Community Gardens. These are places that residents can visit to receive fresh produce, and learn about healthy lifestyle choices they could implement into their own life. Through Bear Blitz, Missouri State students were able to help to make this goal a reality for the residents of those neighborhoods.
It is worth mentioning, I have worked in many community gardens around the country. Through Bear Breaks Immersion trips I have been able to witness different types of gardens in different cities, that each focus on specific issues that plague their community. I have had great experiences, and some that were not so great. I have learned more than I can fit into one post about how big of an impact a garden can make on a community. But what I have learned most was driven deeper today than I can imagine. I was reminded one person cannot possibly maintain a garden for an entire community, but when an entire community comes together, no one person has to feel like they are over worked. As I have heard it put, “Many hands make for light work.”
I volunteered at the Hovey House Community Garden, and had an experience I won’t soon forget. It may have been a little slow at times, but that led to discussions and relationship building that cannot be rivaled. I like to say, “Friends that serve together, stay together,” and I think there is more truth to it than I know. Relationships built around service are built on mutual respect, humility, humanity, meaningful dialogue and vulnerability.
To begin our service I was given a shovel and told to loosen up the soil so marble slabs that had been buried would be able to be reached. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I wasn’t getting the chance to get my hands dirty, or do anything that I had really expected. Hopeful for work that would be more “fun”, I, along with another MSU volunteer, was given a pitchfork and told to go find the previously mentioned marble slab. After about thirty minutes of stabbing the ground with a fork hoping to hit a rock, we had collected three slabs of marble about the size of a keyboard. We were fooled time and again by pebbles that would hit the pitchfork only to let our hopes down when we dug around. I finally got my hands dirty and felt like I did something, even if I had few results to show for it.
The next phase was the part that will keep me coming back. A truck Ozarks Food Harvest came and delivered dozens of boxes of food, the majority being fruits and vegetables. I was not sure what the purpose was at the time, but I jumped in and carried things where I could. What blew me away was the efficiency at which everyone worked to unload the truck. Even with between 10-15 volunteers and a very small shed,I never felt cramped. Everyone was split into three stations, unloading, unpacking and box tear down. I am not exaggerating when I say the hundreds of pounds of food had been sorted and packed away withing about ten minutes of beginning. For a short time I stopped and tried to just take a step back to realize how amazing this system was working.
While I was welcome to leave after this, I stayed for about another hour. I sat and talked to other volunteers, mostly just community members, for almost all of it. I asked how they became involved, what kept them coming back, and more and answered similar questions, but more than anything we just talked. We shared life experiences, stories, and thoughts. We swapped ideas, opinions, and goals. It was unbelievably refreshing. So often when we serve, we are not actually serving with our whole heart, but instead just getting our hours in for our scholarships, classes, organizations, or resumes. Being out there this week helped me to realize how many people live in Zone 1 and are looking to improve their life. They are looking for a way to enrich their lives, and many of those I met today are able to use service to their community as the vehicle.
Bear Blitz encourages students to pop the college bubble. It challenges preconceived notions and forces inward reflection. All it takes is an hour of your time and you can go from being frustrated with digging for rocks to being an engaged citizen that is eager to learn about others’ lives and what they think. It’s that easy. For more information on how you can serve these communities, feel free to visit the Center for Community Engagement in PSU 131, online at our website, or at http://givepulse.com. There is so much work to be done, we cannot possibly do it on our own, but any hands we can get lightens the load.
-John Lang, Junior, Student Coordinator, Center for Community Engagement