Effective community service involves the ability to overcome stereotypes and judgments, as well as having a genuine passion for helping others while building the capacities and competencies of the clients we serve. An individual cannot truly engage in effective community service without understanding that these principles are necessary to fostering change in institutions and creating a positive healthy relationship within the environment. Volunteering at the Capital District Psychiatric Center this semester has been an experience like no other. Not only have I been able to have an effective impact on the patients’ lives, but they have truly had an impact on mines. As a psychology major at the University, I walked into the psychiatric center with my own expectations and beliefs about what my experience would be like. Without knowledge and based on what you see in movies, many people assume that patients are constantly being restrained in restraining jackets, and are probably most of the time acting really out of order. To my surprise, that definitely was not the case at Capital District. It wasn’t until I attempted to understand and apply the principles of overcoming stereotypes and judgments that I was able to work on creating a healthy relationship and environment between myself and the patients. The article “Becoming Good Citizens” (Duncan and Kooperud, 2008) was the basis for my understanding of how individuals can begin to apply their qualities of being an effective team leader. According to the article, becoming a good citizen entails being able to make good judgments while recognizing and working to overcome negative stereotypes and judgments. An individual that makes good judgments based on prior experience and reflection is able to “make informed decisions about the polity at large” guided by their sense of morality and consideration for others. Familiarity with ethics while practicing community service is another way in which individuals can work towards overcoming negative stereotypes and judgments. Ethical behavior according to Duncan and Kooperud, is necessary for being truly moral. Practicing honesty and integrity, fairness, and respect are ways we can work on breaking down stereotypes and judgments during our service to the community. While volunteering at the Capital District Psychiatric Center, it wasn’t until I began to apply the principles of ethics, while I personally worked to break down the stereotypes and judgments I was acquainted with, when I began to develop healthy relations with the clients I served. Effective community service also involves having a genuine compassion for helping others. The article “Hungry Minds” written by Ian Frazier demonstrated that all individuals have the power and resources to positively affect the lives of others, but what we lack is a true commitment. When an individual is able to engage in community service for no reason other than to produce positive change, their commitment will then over shine their work and that individual will be able to successfully give back to the community with compassion for the individuals he/she serves. This article demonstrated how one church was determined to change the lives of homeless individuals. Through consistent soup kitchens for the hungry, the church was able to give those in need a resource for comfort. The church also created writing workshops to stimulate the minds and thoughts of individuals facing hardships. This church showed a genuine compassion for helping others because they were capable of showing the individuals they were serving that they weren’t forgotten, and during their times of crisis, they were provided support and encouragement to empower those individuals. This article showed me that just because someone is different, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same respect and attention that everyone else is entitled to. Reading this article taught me the true meaning of being compassionate; we shouldn’t abandon individuals in crisis because everyone deserves a chance. A final principle of effective community service involves building the capacities and competencies of the individuals we serve. The article “Power in the People” by Dennis Saleeby, discussed that the individuals we serve, deserve to feel like they are capable of performing tasks, and are no less than we are. “Instead of highlighting their weaknesses, we need to build on their strengths” (Saleeby, 1997). When we assume an individual is weak because of their abnormality, we provide less of a service to them, and directly affect the resources we allocate for their well being. Our value for helping individuals changes because we view them as less than ourselves. According to Saleeby, when an individual is revealed to have an abnormality, diagnostic labels tend to dominate all other elements of a person’s character. These labels eventually become how the person begins to perceive their true identity. Furthermore, we transform the individual into cases and place them into categories, while ignoring important elements of the individuals’ cultural, social, and political life. My experience as a volunteer at the Capital District Psychiatric Center has been directly influenced by what the above mentioned articles identified as effective community service. My first responsibility was breaking down the stereotypes and beliefs that I held, which directly influenced my interactions with the patients. When I was able to break down that wall, I realized that not only were the patients fairly friendly, but they were really interested in any assistance you could offer them as their leader. Disorders these patients suffered from ranged from sever schizophrenia, to manic disorders, to rapists and murders, and throughout my experience, never once did I feel as if my well being was threatened. During my semester at Capital District, I had hands on involvement with the patients. I worked in the school, and assisted the patients in learning basic academic work with the hopes of improving their education and working on a better future if they were released. Working in the school and assisting the patients with academic work directly relates to one of the principles of effective community service because I worked daily to help the patients feel competent and capable in their daily activities. Just because they are “labeled” as having a psychotic disorder, doesn’t mean that they are incapable of achieving the goals that they set for themselves. I agree with the principle that once you label a person as disordered, they begin to believe they are not competent, so I utilized my time and resources to encourage them to want to achieve and succeed. I believe the final principle of effective community service—having a passion for the persons whom we serve—is one that I was well aware of and able to improve upon during my service with the Capital District Psychiatric Center. Through communication and honesty, I was able to develop a healthy relationship where trust was reciprocated between the clients and myself. I believe the Capital District Psychiatric Center gained the opportunity to have a younger, less biased individual work directly caring for the patient’s needs. Having an unpaid volunteer work with the patients will show the patients that the people who work with them don’t only do it for money, and really do care. Throughout my experience I was able to gain a lot of trust and respect from the patients, and today I can say I truly care for their well being. This experience has taught me the true meaning of community service, and allowed me to help the patients to my full capacity. I walked into the psychiatric center with hope that I could positively influence someone’s life, and I walked out of the psychiatric center at the end of the semester with the confidence to say I have. I’ve given the patients the ability to learn and understand basic elementary coursework. I’ve provided many of the patients with the encouragement and hope that they are capable of conquering their challenges and succumbing the obstacles or reasons why they may have been diagnosed in the first place. I believe that I have truly impacted these patients, because I was able to re-assure the patients that they could in fact learn the material I was teaching them, and eventually go on to take their GED, and surprisingly they built enough confidence in themselves to actually strive towards acquiring their GED. This volunteer experience has also taught me some things about myself, and my relationship to the world of work. My experiences at Capital District Psychiatric center has taught me that everyone deserves a chance, and it would be selfish for anyone who commits themselves to this environment, to just give up. The most important thing that I have learned during my experience at Capital District Psychiatric Center was that knowledge is power. It is easy for anyone to make their assumptions about what really happens, but it isn’t until you learn the truth, that you can begin to have hope for a better future; if not for yourself, than for someone else. These biased expectations that a person may have, can actually affect adequate treatment for the patients, because of someone’s lack of hope for progression. This experience has affected my commitment for volunteer service in the future because I now feel a sense of obligation to help others in need. My career goals were strengthened and confirmed; working in this population of people is where I truly want to be. I believe the Psychiatric Center may benefit from incorporating the principles of the articles because individuals that are being serviced deserve quality, and persons who are genuinely passionate about their well being.
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