Giving to Receive: How I am a superhero in my community

This essay was in response to a Dealhack scholarship apllication that encouraged you to consider how you gave back to the community. It’s hard to buck culture and pat yourself on the back, but this essay forced me to think of ways in which I contribute. 

butterflies black and white
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

It was the fall of 2016, September I believe, that I found myself up to my elbows in soil, bedding plants and eager volunteers, directing the planting of a community butterfly garden in Kenner, Louisiana.

The idea was hatched two years prior when I became aware of two empty and derelict water features in LaSalles Landing park. It is a park full of potential but one which suffers from neglect.  The water had not run in the pools for many years and now, instead, had they had become a dumping ground for plastic cups, water bottles, trash bags and discarded Styrofoam.

But what if we cleaned the trash, added a little fill dirt, and planted it full of flowers?

I approached the city council, Mayor’s office, and the city planner with my idea. No one was willing to give the go-ahead.  I was befuddled; why would anyone pass on a no-cost beautification project. I back-burnered the idea but did not forget it.

That same year I was invited to join the Rivertown Arts Council. As a council member I helped arrange street art, music, food and dance street fairs in the historic Rivertown District. One of our main goals was to give lesser-known local artists a place to express their crafts. And as luck would have it, the proposed butterfly garden location was in Rivertown.

I decided to make another run at the idea.  This time, a non-election year, a new mayor and the city planner jumped at the idea.  With the help of other Arts Council members, we were able to raise $700 in funds and get donations of plants, mulch, and fertilizer from local businesses.  We solicited the local garden club and invited anyone needing service hours to come help plant the garden.  I roped in my friends and family to haul in a truckload of horse manure—a dirty job—that we mixed into the soil.

Along the way I made friends with Linda Auld, a local specialist on all things butterfly.  Linda gave guidance on what to plant. Along with Linda came a Tulane University researcher and the LSU agriculture department scientists. Our garden got registered with Monarch Watch and put on their butterfly migration map. And then we set a date to plant our garden.

The day was hot but festive.  The media showed up, our mayor gave a speech about saving the pollinators, and nearly 100 volunteers “dug in” to help plant the garden. That was two years ago, and we still have a small, dedicated group that sees to the continued weeding and care of a beautiful butterfly preserve where once just trash could be found.

I have told myself not to volunteer so much, to save time for myself and pass on the significant commitment that comes from working to make a difference. But it seems to have become a curse of personality, my needing to pitch in.  Try as I may I always end up involved and I’ve become effective at making positive changes happen.

I recently served a year as an Ambassador for Bike Easy, a non-profit that advocates for better public transportation and safer bicycling infrastructure—particularly in lower income communities. I have helped plan fundraisers and coordinated water-station on the rides.  I have met with local council members to talk about the reasons why we need to make the streets more shareable and have helped set up temporary protected bike lanes as demonstrations of how well it can support a community. Eventually I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors. Now I help guide the future of the organization, and by default I get to play a role in improving the safety and health of the city.

At school I play an active leadership role. I am president of the Delgado Student Architecture Association, and President of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architectural Students. My goals include building cohesion amongst the students, supporting our professors, and making my fellow students aware of opportunities such as scholarships like this one.

But there is a personal gain to volunteerism. It’s hard to self-label as a superhero, but through my volunteerism I am constantly exposed to people I would call superheroes. I learn from them, emulate them, and make contacts that can be leveraged to further good use. And I receive inspiration that will help me continue to make a positive difference.

Thank you for the opportunity to apply to this scholarship, and for also being a superhero by making education just a little bit easier to achieve.

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