How to Win Friends and Influence Universities…Through Community Service

The University of California application just opened up this August for students to start applying for Fall 2019 and Spring 2020. In this extensive application process, the Personal Insight Questions, a.k.a. “The Scary Essay portion,” requires an incoming student to complete four out of seven prompts in 350 words or less. How will you answer “What have you done to make your community a better place?” This question is aimed at pinpointing your passion and drive to help others, uncovering the core of your character.

Transferring requires a willingness to embark on a journey full of growth and change in two different environments: Berkeley City College and a university. Yet when moving between these two major backdrops another essential question must be addressed: “what strengths and weaknesses will remain when I walk into my new campus?” By then it’s no longer a matter of when you grow, but how you grow. The soil for the seed needs to be rich and plentiful for the flower to bloom. And ultimately, communities of people centered on a cause serve as a robust foundation, providing a clear trajectory for an individual to reach self-actualization.

In other words, it’s time to let your potential shine at Berkeley City College through community service. Surprisingly, a lot of places can help you tap into small passions like music, literature, video-editing and cooking for a greater cause. For example, you can give a helping hand by performing music for the elderly at Chaparral House, just a mile away from campus on the corner of Allston and West Street. If you feel like you have no skills to offer, just the willingness to serve and be of use to someone opens up many opportunities to learn new ways and discover strengths that you never knew you had. The YWCA on Bowditch and Bancroft Way offers a program that helps international visitors with English, where you get to spend one hour each week conversing with a foreigner to help them improve their language skills—which means that you don’t have to do anything but get to know another individual. Any interest can be matched with various organizations throughout Berkeley. The places just mentioned were found using volunteermatch.com and volunteer.org, great websites that match your skills and interests to an organization that needs your help.

Not only can community service open your eyes to something outside of yourself, but it also opens a window to meet the people of this small city. Many students come to Berkeley from different regions of the state, country and world in order to get an education from not only UC Berkeley, but also here at Berkeley City College. Intermixed, but often not interacting, it can get dull living in a place without truly getting to know anyone. But in my own experience, I never truly knew the heart and soul of Berkeley until I met the people who have lived and established themselves here as residents. Through meeting people of various demographics and backgrounds from church volunteering events, homeless care, tutoring and clean-ups, I got to meet strong people guided by the energy to do good in the world around them.

Whether you find it necessary to lend a helping hand, many of these organizations lack the help essential for their organizations to run smoothly. Erica Azim, who coordinates Mbira, a non-profit that works to preserve the tradition of the Zimbabwean instrument called the mbira, says she would like to have “individuals who can video edit, make flyers and just adopt the bigger vision to support the musicians in Zimbabwe,” but Azim needs the hands to help, lamenting, “The community of mbira players in the Bay is growing, but at a slower rate than it could be.” I volunteered for Azim a year ago and although it was for a short two months, I got to experience the beautiful music that one instrument can produce as well as the rich culture surrounding it. Being a passionate musician myself, the experience made me appreciate a type of music that I only got to encounter through Mbira. To say the least, the experience broadened my horizons by expanding my world and giving me a sense of the bigger picture. Seeing the passion that people have for their craft just like me — despite how different our different styles sound — gave new meaning to the way I play my own music. Yet, when it came to volunteers, I was the only one helping her out. I witnessed a desperate need for more people to get involved in this beautiful mission.

The City of Berkeley hosts multitudes of small organizations and small-profits that need more volunteers. Whether you’re new to the area, in need of skills, but want to avoid going through an extensive application process, or find yourself lost without direction, community service can aid you in areas of growth and trajectory. Not only do these organizations bind the people of Berkeley together, they offer the opportunity to discover new sides of yourself and your city. Meeting people, seeing people work ardently for a cause outside of themselves, and just having the knowledge that something you do can affect someone greatly, can not only build your character, but also build your community. And it looks sweet on your transfer applications.

Check out organizations that match your interests at Volunteer.gov, Volunteermatch.org or Idealist.org.

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