On the first day of my Third World Cities class, I was eager and excited. It was a new semester and a fresh start. This class was unlike any other class I had taken over the past four years. It was based around service learning. Each student would volunteer with an organization for twenty hours over the course of the semester. Within the first few weeks, the professor notified us that we would be working with the Transitional Housing Corporation (THC).
From this community based learning, I was hoping to discover how urban development affects people living within Washington D.C. It is so easy for me to be disconnected from the community, especially while in college. Too often students remain on campus or places around American University, for the entire semester, with little to no exploration or interaction with the entirety of D.C.
Becoming active with local organizations is essential to understanding urban development, which is where service learning classes come in. I would not only be reading and learning the theories around urban development, but this information would also come to life through the real world setting of THC. My class was assigned to edit, distribute, collect, and analyze surveys regarding the services that THC provides.
At first, I felt disappointed when I heard that I would not be working with residents one-on-one. In the past my volunteering had consisted of mentoring or doing construction: activities on a more personal level.
I felt as though my volunteering wouldn’t be as significant or impactful. How could drafting or analyzing surveys truly assist the residents?
However, I quickly learned that my role surveying could have just as much meaning as those working with the residents. Volunteering with THC taught me that surveying is important to running an efficient non-profit organization. Gathering data from the surveys allows the organization to provide programs that are useful and utilized. If services aren’t efficient, then they are a waste of time and resources. By finding the most desired classes, THC could adjust and optimize the services they provide.
Even more than helping THC, I was able to help the residents by using the survey as an outlet to voice their needs. In the survey questions, the residents were able to reveal some of their concerns. They ranged from safety around the apartment buildings to child care assistance. While these concerns were not the main focus of our survey, it revealed potential obstacles for residents trying to attend THC classes. The survey became a tool to bridge the communication between residents and the THC staff. With this communication, residents can be better heard and served.
While surveying is a small aspect of the many dimensions of THC, our class was able to provide feedback that may otherwise be neglected. Additionally, my involvement with THC gave me a greater understanding of the processes and programs that go into working on housing problems with the local community.
By: Christina Popolizio