Sunday, December 11, 2016

Service Project Report: Justin and J-1's

Service Project Final Report
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.- Maya Angelou
            Since June of this year, I’ve had the pleasure of helping to house foreign J-1 visa students - many of whom have never stepped foot inside of a first-world industrial country such as the United States, let alone enjoy simple luxuries such as fast food or extra spending money - with my mother. Little did I know before I started, a lot of time, energy, and planning was required to help set these students up in housing units so that they have a comfortable, secure, yet cost-efficient place to live while they were here to work. Although she’s paid to do this as a side job, she thought it would be worthwhile to bring me, and occasionally the rest of my family, along to help her set up these units in Panama City. My mother, being the kind-hearted religious woman she is, thought it would be good spiritual service for us to give our time and energy to give others a chance to make months worths of U.S. wages - which is more money than some of these students could make after years of much more strenuous labor - in order to send back to their families, whom are often struggling in poor conditions with many mouths to feed.
            After two weekends in June, we had managed to move in over 60 students into 16 separate units amongst two apartment complexes near their places of work. Over 70 hours of my spare time were required for us to buy, transfer, and set up couches, tables, beds, chairs, and televisions in each unit. While the work itself proved to be very tedious and time-consuming between reading directions and setting up the furniture, as well as the handfuls of trips we had to take to transfer them to the units, I honestly found myself to enjoy what I was doing. I like building things already, but the purpose of the work gave the situation more value and a feeling of goodwill to me. There was a lot of magic in that feeling and it also brought my family together to work towards a common goal. Even my younger brothers, who would much rather be spending hours upon hours playing video games, found themselves working hard and complaining little.
            After we were done setting up the units, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the students, who were so grateful and humbled to be involved in this life-changing opportunity, let alone even be in the United States for the first time. This, to me, was the most worthwhile aspect of the experience. I truly could not help but feel pure happiness in my heart to see their reactions and how excited they were to better their lives and their families. Many of the students, some younger than me, had ten or more younger siblings that they were solely responsible for in their home country on top of their work and education. This was really the opportunity of a lifetime for them. Their emotional reaction, in my mind, is the first thing I think of when I read the Maya Angelou quote above; surely, many of these students will never forget how they felt on their first day moving into America. It was also during this time that I realized how beneficial work-visa immigration is, not only to these J-1’s and their families, but also to local businesses that had many positions to fill that most Americans refused to do for the wages offered. It was extremely beneficial for both sides and this experience gave me the opportunity to acknowledge this first-hand.
            Since then, we have multiple trips back to Panama City to check in with them, handle any issues they had with their living situations, as well as to surprise them for Thanksgiving with turkeys for each unit. While Jamaicans do not celebrate Thanksgiving, we found them to be very open and appreciative of any celebration with good food. They love America! I’m glad to see that they are thriving, happy to be here, and hopeful for their future. I’m also extremely grateful to share a wonderful life experience helping others and their families with my family; it’s absolutely a unique kind of satisfaction with a very pure feeling. I look forward to continuing this type of service during my breaks from school in the future.