In previous years, Freshman Service Experience participants were placed into sites according to their preference of wanting to work outdoors, in offices, or direct service. This year we decided to try something new and to let participants be placed into volunteer sites according to the issue area that they are either most passionate about or one that they wanted to learn more about. It is our goal to make incoming students to American University aware of the issues that impact the Washington, D.C.-Metropolitan community. The issue areas are homelessness and housing, art for social change, community health, environmental justice, and urban education.
DC is home to food deserts, areas with little or no access to grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods. A growing creative community effort began to increase access to food such as mobile farmers markets. In the past students have served at So Others Might Eat, DC Central Kitchen, and Food & Friends experiencing hands on farming techniques, organizing donations, and creating meals for families.
Housing Justice & Community Engagement:
Gentrification is a major issue currently plaguing DC. Disparities and wealth gaps in DC have led to a lack of affordable housing. Community partners such as United Planning Organization, Little Friends for Peace and A Wider Circle that are leading the charge to preserve neighborhoods and the families impacted.
Organizations in DC work to provide access to healthcare services without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. DC was severely impacted by the AIDS epidemic in the 90s which left a lasting effect on the city's public health. Organizations promoting community health include Iona Senior Services, St. Elizabeth Hospital and the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Service projects include playing bingo while hearing the experiences of longtime DC residents and building awareness on public health issues by creating resource kits.
Arts & Media for Social Change:
Expressing injustices through art activism is innovative to the DC community and are displayed throughout the District. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, City Arts and Emergence Community Arts Collective are inspiring organizations working with arts for social change. Students have restored historic murals, collaborated with local creative artists and participated in spoken word performances.
Environment & Urban Sustainability:
As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Arcadia Farms, the National Arboretum, and the Anacostia Watershed are examples of organizations AU students have learned from. Students engage in the fight for environmental justice by harvesting plants in urban gardens, supporting a local farmers market and protecting our national parks from invasive species.
Identity & Civil Rights:
Once known as the Chocolate City, DC has an interesting story regarding issues of racial identity and civil rights. DC serves as an epicenter for the plethora of organizations fighting for equal representation and justice. Revolutions for women's rights, racial equality and gay rights have all come to DC. Organizations students have served at in the past include DC Center for the LGBT Community, MLK Library and the Women's Collective.
Education & Community Building
Literacy rates among both children and adults in DC are drastically low compared to national averages. The inequities within DC Public Schools vary among the eight wards. Students help non-profits, advocacy groups and teachers prepare for students to start the school year excited. Reading Partners, City Gate, and Everybody Wins DC!. From Setting up classrooms to preparing materials for an arts program, students see firsthand the impact of volunteer-based organizations on DC public education.
Global Human Rights, Immigration & Refugee Issues
DC has historically served as a refuge for people fleeing from conflict but those who seek shelter within the district are met with many barriers to basic care. The immigrant communities that call DC home have created vibrant communities and left a distinguished mark on many DC neighborhoods. CARECEN and Latin American Youth Center advocate on the advancement of marginalized populations seeking basic human rights and acceptance.