Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon


Leadership Development Through Embedded Service

By Dr. Cami Bishop, ASPCC

In the months after Hurricane Katrina, I was most troubled about how I could be of help to the victims.  Donations did not seem to be reaching those in need, and the government seemed unresponsive.

new orleans after the flood

Spring 2006 became Freedom Ride II for students in colleges and universities across America.  It was originally coined by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the movement to bring students to New Orleans to work on their Spring Breaks to help rebuild.  Under the leadership of Phi Theta Kappa, five PCC-Sylvania students joined that movement and spent their Spring Break working with Common Ground Relief.  Their lives changed forever as a result. Since then, ASPCC and Phi Theta Kappa have continued to send students every academic break.

Our students gut houses, drywall, landscape, restore wetlands, distribute food/supplies and cook and clean.  They continue to say that this is the most valuable learning experience they have ever had. It is evident that they are truly changed.  Learning about leadership, activism and organizing, students explore the differences of class in New Orleans. Each trip makes teams stronger, and they express an appreciation of the privileges they enjoyed and the commitment to continue making a difference in their world.

students at work

This service program affords students an opportunity to learn more about oppression in our world of abundance.  The New Orleans rebuilding effort provides an opportunity to study race relations as well.  It is obvious that those with the least means were the hardest hit, and the last to receive relief.  Beyond that observation, it seems that the racial dynamics are changing.  The largest majority of volunteers working in solidarity are Caucasian, exposing the American community to a different type of relationship with other races. 

Each term, we ask participants for a bigger commitment to the New Orleans leadership program. The first time we went, the trip was mandatory and students were paid for 40 hours for their work there. Some students on that trip were going for the wrong reasons, so in June 2007, we decided not to pay a salary, just expenses. Then we added attendance at club meetings, the SOS club, and had more time to prepare students beforehand.

In September 2007, our trip preparation went a step further. Students going are now required to take a 5-week course, "Beginning Leadership" through the Education Department, to learn about the hurricane, responses to it, social implications and work to be done now. In class, we view Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke; learn how to plan travel, cover expectations, travel guidelines and travel policy; discuss necessary shots and what to take; sign waivers; go over the schedule; and allow lots of time for question and answers. The class plans a fundraising project as a group, which must be completed before they go. They also actively research the agencies we will work with and put together a budget. Already we are seeing a difference in their knowledge and commitment to the program. By the end of the course, students are able to organize their own group to participate in an embedded service leadership development project.

As far as Fundraising; Students use the usual fundraising means: selling Mardi Gras beads and masks, Valentine’s gifts, donation jars at events, silent auctions, and garage sales. Additionally, they secure funds from student organizations, accessing funds gained from video games and vendor tables in the mall areas. Events such as a spa day with vendors donating haircutting services, massages and the like for a fee that would be donated to the cause have been suggested. They also approach businesses for donations and align themselves with ones providing New Orleans merchandise. Faculty frequently sponsor students to go and pool money within their departments.

"To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world." Lean on Me

What Students Had to Say

Our mission was to help others, but the trip helped us most.”
“We have talked the ears off our friends and family with all our stories, but in the end we realized that no words could possible express all that we experienced while we were there.  This was truly a life-changing experience.”
“I learned that no matter what a person’s stamina or energy level, as long as everyone provides everything they have, the team will benefit.  As for morale, if one person is not putting in as much as the rest of the team, it can affect that entire group that is working.”
“I learned so much about myself through helping others.”
“I explored all of my values.  I knew we had it good in this country but to see and hear for myself the injustice being done within our borders, I had to reflect on my own values.  It makes it even more ridiculous and embarrassing to even consider one complaint about food, cold showers, cots and heat.  I complained once about food but I have realized how selfish it was for me to make the comment that I did.  Some people have no food.”
“It’s an absolutely amazing trip that changes lives.”
“I am a richer and stronger person because of this experience and I am excited to share my experiences with my family, friends and fellow students.  I hope more people will go to help.”
I think I will tell stories about New Orleans for the rest of my life.”
This trip showed me that my limits are not as close as I thought.”

Final Thoughts

Each trip is rich with activities that teach leadership and broaden cultural awareness. Daily debriefing sessions before dinner enable participants to articulate the emotions, observations and awarenesses learned. Often times there isn't a dry eye in the group due to the moving and sometimes overwhelming circumstances. New Orleanians have expressed deep gratitude and joined in group efforts to rebuild..

But Wait, there's also fun! Throughout each trip recreational and educational time is set aside to decompress and partake of the rich cultural cuisine, music and history. It could be a trip to the Nasa Space Museum in Mississippi, a scavenger hunt with prizes, the St. Patrick's Day parade or a nice beignet and coffee at the world famous "Cafe DuMonde" on a starlit night.

Students, faculty and staff have all said that they will remember these experiences the rest of their lives. We invite and challenge you to step up, get involved and join the next group. Students interested in participating in SOS:NO are urged to contact the Sylvania ASPCC Student Government office in CC 101, or call 971-722-4361 or e-mail aspcc.sy@pcc.edu.

stop the hate

Copyright © 2003 – From the CommuniTEAM Building Training Manual. Adapted by Vengeflutta Smith and Doug Cureton, CreativiTEAM, Inc. Available by e-mail at dougcureton@CreativiTEAM.com. Used with permission. Stop the Hate website