April is VISTA Month at Maker Ed, during which we are shining light on the work being done by our Maker VISTA program partners and members, and sharing stories of impact, service, and transformation occurring everyday. Be sure to check out the blog throughout this month as we offer insights, resources, and rich perspectives from a diverse array of communities and maker landscapes. Also, click here if you are interested in serving as a Maker VISTA member at one of our partner sites for 2017-2018.
This post was written by Greg Robbins, currently serving at Drew Charter School in Atlanta.
My whole life I’ve never felt like I fit in. I have a unique, eccentric personality, with correlating unique and eccentric interests. Even when I’ve tried to be “normal” it never worked, never felt possible. I grew up as someone who only ever tangentially belonged to groups, even my family. I was the only kid out of four boys who was a musician, practicing piano and for roles in musicals while my brothers were playing video games; the only kid making good grades; the only kid who was singing and making random noises at all hours of the day; the only kid staring off into space most of the time. I didn’t like playing pickup sports, finding the systems by which the other kids made team choices felt unjust (regardless of the fact that I’m also terrible at sports). I have felt for most of my life that my heart has been only partially understood, and hardly ever on a deep level. Though I was never bullied, I rarely formed deep friendships. Feeling like a perpetual outsider, I sought out and befriended the janitors, lunch ladies, and other fellow outsiders with whom connecting was somehow more comfortable.
Like many young people in high school, I went on to experience confusion as to who I was and what I believed in. I grew up going to a big church, but during my freshman year, I debated where I fell along religious lines. I became passionate about playing guitar, and found it distracted me from other focuses—for better, but perhaps in some cases, also for worse. The following year was the hardest year of my life: my parents divorced, I went through a breakup of my own, and the thing that I cared most about—playing guitar—was taken from me when I developed carpal tunnel and tendonitis. I could keep singing, but I had to give up both guitar and piano almost entirely. I lost my sense of self. I lost the fiery, eccentric passion that I wore on my sleeve, and I became very depressed and anxiety-ridden.
It was at this low point where I connected, finally, to service. Over many months, I re-examined my relationship to God, addressing some of the questions or disconnections I felt at the start of my teenage years. I discovered a purpose and value in the idea of serving, and joined a group of other young people who were serving the homeless population in downtown Atlanta. This experience recalled those feelings of outsiderness that burdened me as a child; but now, I found the opportunity for brotherhood instead, the chance to identify and connect with others who were marginalized. I came to see great beauty in a life where I was relationally connected to those in need as equal peers. The wonderful people I met taught me so much about what is really important in life, and helped me to find more wonder within it.
This spurred me to apply for a Bonner Scholarship in college. I spent a year at a time serving at a homeless shelter, a food pantry, and a community development organization. I learned that those in need require direct services, but they also need people behind the scenes to build infrastructure that can help fully lift them out of poverty. This broadened my scope of service into the education system—which in turn became a bridge to exploring VISTA work. During my senior year of college, I took a tour of Drew Charter School, and I saw what significant work the school was undertaking to reverse the intense cycle of poverty in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta. I thought to myself, I would love to serve these community development efforts. A year and a half later, I found myself with the opportunity to do just that. I now serve at Drew Charter School as a Maker VISTA with Maker Ed.
What currently stirs my heart to serve is captured in this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity. Every person must decide at some point, whether they will walk in light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness… Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
These words ground me. They remind me that there is a dichotomy in life around serving: people are either living for others with “creative altruism” (what beautiful words!) or for themselves. It may not always be so black and white, but I personally am striving to serve in every aspect of life. It’s the most meaningful way for me to live; it helps me feel connected to others. Though I will always feel like an outsider, in service I get to feel like an outsider alongside other weird people serving and being served alongside me.
Click here for more stories about the impact of our program and the service of Maker VISTA members from across the country. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter to stay updated on all Maker VISTA happenings. If you would like to serve as a Maker VISTA or know someone who would, click the “Apply to Serve” icon above to learn more.