I have been around service my entire life. My parents were both extremely politically active and the importance of taking care of people was ingrained in me from a very young age. My mother sat on the first Advisory Board of the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant – a meal and service provider here in Spokane, WA. She used to make me volunteer at the dinners every week, and I begrudgingly went all through high school. I would like to say that I went happily to set up the chairs and serve the dinners, but I really didn’t want to be there – there were usually other things I would have rather been doing. And that’s where my true relationship with service began.
It was the fall semester of my junior year of high school. I found myself in Mr. Long’s 4th period Leadership class – a class where students came up with service projects and saw them through to fruition. To be honest, I took the class because I thought it would be easy and would look good on my college applications. I skated through the first month, putting in minimal effort and showing even less interest in any of the service projects. One day, while watching the minutes click by till lunch, I was snapped back to reality by Mr. Long asking me to stay after class. He informed me that he knew I wasn’t really doing anything in his class, and gave me two choices: I could continue to perform at a lackluster level and get by, or I could make it an amazing experience. I chose the latter.
That year I spearheaded the largest food and clothing driving North Central High School had ever seen. NC is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the state, so the need is always high. I continued with the Leadership program at North Central and was one of the first students to receive a letter in Leadership. I actually lettered in something! Me, the girl who didn’t join anything and wasn’t coordinated enough to make a sports team!
I continued doing service projects on my own sporadically while I worked my way through Gonzaga in the restaurant industry. One time, I convinced all of the servers and bartenders downtown to donate their tips from one night of work to the Red Cross to benefit Kosovo refugees. Another time, I made Mardi Gras masks and sold them to raise money after Hurricane Katrina. Service has always been there for me. I can’t say that service would be as important to me as it is if that one teacher hadn’t called me out. That is why it means so much to me to do the same thing for students, not only at the Campus Kitchen at Gonzaga University, but at our Campus Kitchens across the country. That said, thank you Mr. Long. You truly made a difference, not only in my life, but in the lives of many.
Emily Paulson is a Program Manager at The Campus Kitchens Project and the Coordinator for the Campus Kitchen at Gonzaga University.