Service work can be truly life changing – both for the community being served, and also for the person volunteering their time. And when that service is of the “immersive” variety (a seven-day experience or longer), the likelihood that the experience will profoundly shape the volunteer is all the greater.
One of the biggest challenges faced by immersive service participants is how to hold onto everything they learned after the program ends. But no matter how profound the experience was: whether they strengthened their commitment to service, discovered a new appreciation of Jewish tradition, or developed leadership skills, it is entirely possible to bring that new found inspiration back every day life. Here’s how:
STEP 1 Take the time to reflect.
While it can be difficult to process the impact of an experience while it is happening, if you wait too long you can lose grasp on just how powerful it was. In the days or weeks leading up to your final day, take an hour to sit down and reflect on the ways the program has changed or impacted you. Find a quiet or inspiring place and write a list, a few paragraphs or a mini memoir – just get it all down on paper while everything is fresh.
STEP 2 Prioritize.
Once you get back to the “real world,” the realities of every day life and routines are quick to settle in. And despite best intentions, it is all too easy to let your experience fall by the wayside. To increase your chances of retaining some of what you learned, prioritize a few lessons you particularly want to focus on integrating into post-program life. Maybe you realized you want to celebrate Shabbat more regularly, or maybe you resolved to set aside one day a month to volunteer. Whatever it is, decide what matters most to you and go for it!
STEP 3 Keep in touch.
Often times, the people you meet on immersive service program are your best link to keeping the program fresh – after all, they are the folks who most intimately understand everything you experienced! Schedule coffee dates and reunions with your fellow participants, or create an email list or Facebook group to help you keep in contact and share resources with one another long after the program ends.
STEP 4 Volunteer at home.
Just because your official service program is over doesn’t mean your opportunities for service are too. Find an organization that does similar work to what you did on the program and volunteer with them. Or contact your program’s sponsor organization about other opportunities to stay involved. With any luck you’ll be able to use your immersive experience as a springboard for longer term, meaningful service.