Skills as Service

Most of my volunteer experiences this year happen to occur back in my home town while I was on a break or just away for a weekend. I actually went home very often this year in comparisons to last and I think it had a lot to do with people asking me to share my knowledge of martial arts and self-defense.

First, I was asked to come teach a very simplified self-defense seminar at Planet Kids Premier Academy. I spent my Friday afternoon teaching small children about stranger danger, how to stay away from dangerous people and places, and a few easy techniques for getting away from an attacker. It took a lot of patience and answering tons of questions before their brains and tiny little hands could grasp the concepts I had to teach. After the hard work was over, I got out the foam swords so they could feel like the big kids playing games in the real karate classes. They went crazy over the small matches they acted out and didn’t want that part to end. By the end of our time together that day, many of the children were grasping at my legs begging me not to leave. I never cease to be amazed by the endless amount of love and appreciation small children have shown me for doing something I find so normal.

A few weeks later as the weather began to grow cold in the fall, I returned home for a similar reason. Only this time, my students were on the opposite end of the age spectrum. I was asked to go to Auburn Hills at 7am on a Thursday Morning to teach a very different side of self defense to the members of the Optimist Club.  The truth about being older and living in a city is that people won’t really be looking out for you. In fact, the elderly are targeted often as easy to steal from. So for this lesson, we had to learn more self defense against weapons and life-threatening aggressors.

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The Optimist Club provides a framed copy of their creed to anyone that volunteers their times with them.

On the upside of waking up early and teaching serious material, I was given free breakfast and conversations that lasted long after the lesson on martial arts was over. I also got to witness how adorable it is when really old people sing a special version of the Happy Birthday song to a friend. And finally, it was great to experience a new age range to teach to. I wont be stopping any time soon so I can hope for more experience and bigger crowds.

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Sociology: What’s my Role in Society and can I do better?

When I was younger, I wore my big brother’s old clothes to school. They were mostly baggy, they had more zippers and pockets than the girl’s clothes, and had some pretty cool graphics on them. I would always tell everyone that those clothes were so comfy. And they were–I was always itchy, uptight, and aggravated in most of my girly clothes. That’s the way I wanted to dress sometimes–and my parents let me.

When I was younger, I had a best friend named Josh. He was nice and liked to play with the same toys I did in kindergarten. We built things with blocks and once they were high enough–all the way over our heads–we’d knock them down like Godzilla with crowded cities. My other two closest friends were twin brothers, Nickolas and Cameron. I always hung out with these young boys and all my neighbors who were overwhelmingly boys–and my parents let me.

When I was younger, I wanted to go to football and lacrosse day camps. I turned out to be the only girl to participate in either, but that’s something that I didn’t notice at the time. I ran as fast as I could, stayed as alert as possible to never miss a pass, and always did all the exercises. I was put into karate classes at the age of four. There were only a couple other girls who practiced at that dojo and they were older than me. Everyday I went to karate, I never questioned that I was going to be one of the best students. My older brother and I did many of the same activities growing up–and my parents let me.upnorth

When I was younger, I spent my years growing up outside in the woods before dinner. My neighbors made sticks into weapons with my brother and I to fight off imaginary intruders and evildoers. We’d get spots of dirt on our clothes and spots of poison ivy on our skin. If we got hurt, we’d help each other to get back inside and clean up. I came in the house smelling of soil and grass–and my parents let me.

When I was younger, I started middle school, where I learned how to make new friends. I started realizing that I had a lot in common with many of the girls in my grade. I had  sleep overs with them and even had a best friend that was a girl from elementary school all the way up to sometime in high school. I started going shopping for clothes that fit me well and used purses instead of pockets. I used the makeup that I thought looked good on the other girls–and my parents let me.

When I was younger, I started to see that the little boys were growing up from punching-bag-play-mates to young men I’d daydream of holding hands with. I made more friends that were girls who tried to help me talk to boys nicely about things like feelings. I remain that same child that spars hard in karate and isn’t afraid to get dirty outdoors, but I have grown into a young woman that practices a more nurturing attitude and values softness and elegance–and my parents let me.

My parents taught me enough to let me make decisions as I grew up.

An issue that has resulted from large portions of the population’s actions in parenting, is that of their children starting to feel restricted by the norms of gender identity. If a child identifies as a girl, does that mean that they must only play with the toys sold in the pink packaging? Do they have to play house rather than learn how to throw a baseball? If a child identifies as a young boy, does that mean they automatically have to be athletic? Do they have to aspire to be a part of life-threatening careers at a young age? Of course they don’t. What seems to be the problem is that parents, caretakers, relatives, and friends alike automatically expect certain behaviors based off of one’s expressed identity.

It’s clear that we, as individuals, have the autonomy to decide how masculine and how feminine we behave every day. What isn’t clear is how society will treat a person for acting more feminine or more masculine than everyone else would expect. Sometimes the reactions of society are so extreme that no matter how autonomous we may or may not feel in our self-expression, the people around us can slowly push us to expressing and acting on feelings or urges we may not have within ourselves.

I am Kalie. I go to Central Michigan University to study communication, leadership, and psychology. I spend my free time practicing archery and martial arts, working out, hiking mountains, painting or writing, analyzing music, playing board games and video games, and dancing. I don’t always act the way people expect me to. I am lucky enough to have been raised to not allow many restrictions that come along with identifying as a woman affect me on a daily bases.

If you are interested in how some people or places plan to get rid of some of the negative effects of gender roles and expectations, or if you are curious about what might be right for raising a child in today’s society, you can visit these sources:

about Sweden’s Gender-neutral Preschool: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14038419 

men and boys challenging the dynamics of personal and professional gender roles for equality: https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/wom2031.doc.htm

Clubbin’

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At CMU there are nearly 400 registered student organizations (RSO’s).

“Build confidence, your résumé, leadership skills and a new worldview by joining a CMU student group.” –CMU Student Organizations.

People typically stick to what they know, who they are comfortable with, and don’t push themselves too hard. Here at school, I say there are many reasons to throw those values to the wind and join any club that sounds interesting to you.

Effects of joining an RSO may include but are not limited to:

  • meeting new people
  • increased positivity in your everyday life
  • mental and physical activity
  • professional and personal development
  • time management skills

I first joined the Infusion Dance Team. We are completely student run without any choreography help from faculty or staff here. We are very proud of how well we organize ourselves and perform. For events like the Homecoming Parade, Siblings Weekend, some basketball half-time shows, and Relay for Life, we come up with songs and choreography that fits our skills and is fitting to the event. Our organization doesn’t compete against dance clubs from other schools and we stay on campus for all of our practices and performances.

Coming out of high school, I was a mediocre dancer at best. I learned and executed what skills I considered the minimum for qualifying me to be a dancer. But, bless my soul, I really love to dance. So I decided that I didn’t want it to end with my high school graduation. I searched for the right dance club to join which was surprisingly difficult. There are several here on campus so I had to really look into which team would be a great fit for me. Infusion Dance Team focuses on self and team improvement, a positive place to escape from school/work/other responsibilities, and a group to find friends among dancers. Try outs were nerve racking and challenging so I feel blessed to have made the cut. However, the experience of being on the team is much different. We offer each other so much as far as new skills and tips to improve old ones, that I feel like I could easily learn new things whenever I think I’m ready. It’s a great club for improving myself without feeling the pressure of a competitive team.

Secondly, I joined the Classic Games Club here at central. Another completely student run group, this club’s main purposes include recreation, relaxation, and fun. Every Friday night we meet in the lobby of my building to play all sorts of games. It can range anywhere from Taboo to Settlers of Catan and from Family Feud to Mortal Kombat. We plan special event nights that include a barbecue, volleyball at the Student Activity Center, going to the casino, a euchre tournament, and many others.  There are no try outs or skills required to join. It’s suggested that you really like board games and games of other sorts but you could even learn to love them if you’re looking for new things to do. We go for hours on end switching from game to game. Everyone has been more than welcoming.

The easygoing atmosphere and friendliness was immediately offered to me and I started telling everyone to check this club out. I have had a couple friends here and there already come play games with us which is why I decided to run for the publicity chair. Several people ran and now my pal Cameron and I are co-chairs. I created a Classic Game Club Instagram that we run and I bought tons of chalk to mark up the sidewalks around campus–unfortunately spring semester weather isn’t exactly conducive to writing with chalk on the sidewalk most of the time so that will take place more in the upcoming fall semester.

Over the summer, I have plenty of people to play games with and time to stretch and be ready to dance again in the fall. I chose these organizations not only for the benefits that come along with being in an RSO but because these activities are already part of who I am and will likely remain to be for as longs as possible.

An Ascent: Leaders Brought up in Detroit

You wake to the pang in your stomach. You try hard not to remember when it was, exactly, that you last ate a full meal. Who can you tell? Who cares enough to help? Besides, you should be able to help yourself, right? All you can do is go to school each day as you should. You know you’re not the only one which makes it even more difficult to ask for help. Someone else has it worse. But how long can you endure things the way they are now? Sometimes you just wish you had someone to show they care–just enough to show you an opportunity to make things happen.

This is a reality for far too many young people around the world. Places like Detroit, so close to my home, know the feeling of hunger, restriction, and fear all too well. Change is wanted and needed. With nearly 40% of Detroit area residents living under the poverty line, where does the community start?

We get so caught up in the pressure to be successful that we forget the things that don’t affect us immediately. We fill most of our days. We spend our time on things that we have to do and then feel drained and incomplete if we don’t do some of the things that we really want to do.

I don’t have all the answers but I do have time to offer a helping hand.

It only takes a little time and hardly any extra effort. Instead of going through the usual routine, consider doing something to help others. Providing service for others is not only extremely helpful to a community, but offers personal gain in character.

My Leader Advancement Scholar cohort made a trip down to Detroit from Mount Pleasant   to help out the second poorest place in Michigan (around third poorest in the nation) that just happens to be a place full of potential for more amazing things. Detroit could return to the state of greatness it was once in. It may just need help along the way. We visited the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy on day one of our trip.

We placed our things and ourselves within a tiny gymnasium that doubled as a cafeteria and then waited patiently for the students to arrive. On their last day of spring break, I was worried the students would be far from excited to be undesirably adorned by their uniforms and come back on a Friday that was meant to be school-free. Throughout the day, I was with a small group of LAS members and Jalen Rose students. We made a somewhat quiet team. I did appreciate, however, that the students went along with our efforts to keep conversations rolling and our attempts to play games to make things more interesting or engaging. There were two moments in the day that really stuck out to me: First, we were simply “de-fuzzing” some circles cut off of socks for an educational non-profit’s craft kits. As the eight of us sat quietly in the classroom, we decided to play hangman on the white board. We each took turns going to write on the board. Every one else continued to “de-fuzz” as we guessed letters and phrases. Second, at the end of the day, we discussed what everyone thought of the whole event. It was then that I realized that none of them were really disappointed to be brought back to school. In fact, they were glad that they had something fun to do on their break. Nearly all the students agreed that they were extremely bored during their break. Many even felt like they were trapped to do nothing until we came to visit.

Their attitudes were obviously appreciative. In a place that doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of facilities and opportunities, it’s amazing to see that they show their appreciation so clearly. Or maybe that is something that I should be used to seeing? Should I even be surprised when people are appreciative? With such a great difference between the areas we live, no wonder I am accustom to being under appreciated and under appreciative. Attitudes and life styles are geographically based when there is such a difference in an area’s average income. This new point of view that can be gained from simply getting to know the inner-workings of a new area, is something that everyone should have to experience at least once in their lives. And even though it isn’t understood by all, I’m positive that our LAS members were humbled by the type of leadership that we saw coming from the Jalen Rose students. Attitude is a huge part of leadership attributes and they had it right. They were so appreciative and they saw so many good things coming from their situations. It assured me that they don’t want to become victims of circumstance, and specifically, victims of their city’s current reputation.

 

Retreating From the Front Lines to the Back Woods

Preparing for finals is the best time to reflect on the things that helped you through the semester so far. Think about what made you feel uncomfortable and what you did to feel at home again. For me, many struggles appear outside of the realm of classes. I would occasionally feel down about my involvement and not finding a club that I felt I belonged in. This often came with the reminder that having a job really gets in the way of being able to learn more about and spend time with those in my cohort.

angie and I
My mentor, Angie (wearing maroon), and I (wearing gold), getting ready to climb high ropes.

For this, I try to look back on the mentor and mentee retreat that the Leader Advancement Scholars of first and second year students went on. Each incoming freshmen gets and mentor (from the sophomore class) and sometimes a mentor gets two mentees. We go on a retreat in the beginning of the fall that brings together mentor and mentee as well as the two classes as a whole.

Unfortunately, my mentor couldn’t be there until late night on the first day. My friend, Derek, and his mentor, Garrett, made sure that I was able to work with them for group activities. Although another group could have done this, they were considerate enough to be the first to offer to take me into their group. I had my first sense of belonging since coming to school with all of LAS. I was fortunate that I didn’t need someone assigned to me to make me feel more comfortable. I love my mentor so much, but since she couldn’t be there, I felt so lucky to have friends already. retreat2

After some intense mind games and even some physically challenging games, we had time to relax. And by relax, I mean play basketball, volleyball, gagaball, and go for a walk. During this time, I talked with some mentors and mentees that I hadn’t gotten much of a chance to before. Somehow, by the magic of the retreat, we even turned into what student’s here like to call a “cuddle puddle”. The appreciation I feel for those sort of moments don’t come immediately.

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“cuddle puddle”

Some time later is when realize the importance of these simple moments.

When night fell, over 90 LAS students gathered around a large fire. Despite my nerves for fitting in and being understood, I found myself comfortable. Around the fire, I could make out individual faces that were warmly lit by orange colors in the dark, cold, blue night air. Student began telling stories. No matter who it was, every other person at the fire listened intently. It was as if everything that came out of a person’s mouth fueled our gradually kindled spirits.

Out of all the social situations I have been in, I had never seen anything like it. After sharing a fun story, or something that we were thankful for about LAS members, we were encouraged to find specific people who have impacted us so far. Once we find each person, we thanked them for something that they have done for us. In my case, I thanked people for the things they had done with me. For me, shared experiences become more than just memories. These times become sources of growth and mutual understanding between hearts and minds. This is important in true connections which gave me all the more reason to be thankful and tell friends.

That night, everyone moved their beds out of their bunks and into the common room of the cabin. Small beds covered the floor where everyone slept in the warmth and comfort of old and new found friendships.

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My mentor and I with my roommates and their mentors.

Fred Factor Reflection

Fred is a real person but also a concept that has changed thousands of people for the better. Mark Sanborn was inspired by a mailman to write a book about becoming your best self. The idea is that this mailman, named Fred, went above and beyond his duties as an employee and as a decent human being. He had  a way with making people feel better and valuable. You can watch this video that really captures what the book and the following movement are all about. As a part of our leadership class, we were to find creative ways to become a “Fred” and show the effects that we had. My team decided to spread positive vibes on campus and over social media. We handed out flowers to strangers with a note attached that read,

Step One: take a picture with or of your flower and post it on social media with #sharetheloveCMU

Step Two: pass the flower on to someone else who would appreciate it so that they can do the same”

After we recorded several brave flower exchanges and dissected the reasons why it helped us attain our goal, we put together this presentation that summed it all up quite nicely. If you would also like to see the wonderful people receiving the flowers, you can click here and admire the awkward building of connections that we made.

The project and the presentation may be over, but learning such valuable lessons and getting myself to go out there and do something definitely leaves a lasting impression. I will continue to hold myself and my group-mates accountable for being the best version of ourselves we can be.

Each Puzzle Piece

I often find myself mindlessly scrolling through various forms of social media and stumbling upon articles and videos. These posts usually make us think that we have some sort of connection with the writer or person who shared the video because it is just oh-so-relatable. Today it seems too easy. We form relationships (real or virtual) based on a couple common interests. I saw that you tweeted lyrics to a song that I love; we must have so much in common. And so we form these connections that rarely even leave the space of social media to become more real and personal (not to mention that they sometimes rarely leave the comfort of our own thoughts). As a member of the human race, I know it’s easier to believe that these simple commonalities can be all that a relationship needs. But what actually matters in creating solid connections with others?

Fire up for CMU students relaxing in the hot tub after going down all of the slides at least three times.

Believe it or not, I think about this quite often. When the CMU Leadership Institute offered me the opportunity to go to the Connections Leadership Conference FOR FREE, you know I was on top of that. Leading up to the event itself, I was never entirely certain of what it was all about. Being unsure is far easier when, no matter what, I know that I get to participate in child-like-wonder at the Great Wolf Lodge’s water park. All twisty-slides aside, I was still looking forward to the conference.

We were seated in a ballroom area around fancy dining tables upon our arrival on Saturday. We were handed some booklets with the schedule and many worksheets pertaining to conference activities. After a nice lunch and some welcoming words, the conference finally began. Only two sessions that I went to were assigned two me and I was able to pick another five that I found interesting. Having that freedom was a conference-first for me and I was crazy about it.

Group work to show how the individual, culture, physical environment, organization, and government all work together.
Group work to show how the individual, culture, physical environment, organization, and government all work together.

Being around so many different CMU students and understanding the various leadership roles they held around campus seemed wonderfully enlightening. While working with countless new student-leaders, I began to see why they called it the Connections Conference. With each session and each activity I found that there are so many resources at my disposal. Between the organizations and the amazing individuals on campus, it seems impossible to feel alone with any goals I may have.

I had a common sense of usefulness throughout every one of my sessions during this conference. They were all useful because they brought up the connections that really matter. After all the wondering and worrying about what really makes a relationship, feelings of relief and satisfaction overcame me.

Finally, a conference that caught my attention and never let it go.

Connections are strong when you talk about what really matters to you in life. Who do you care most about in your life and why? What do you read or hear about in the news that really gets your blood boiling? What are you most happy doing with your free time? What are you most passionate about? More often then not, it is hard to answer these sort of questions without giving it some time and thought. I honestly believe that it shouldn’t have be that way.

It’s easy for us to have faith in petty similarities. It’s easy to avoid vulnerability by only talking about things that you have in common with others instead of saying what you really think and waiting for others to come forward with similar thoughts. We need to start asking the tough questions. We need to start showing others what is really important to us. And I don’t mean your Lulu Lemon $80 leggings, your smart phone, your Cyboard, or when your jeans still fit after the holiday season. In order to make sustainable and truly meaningful connections with others, we have to get real with each other. We have to talk about what we want to do with the rest of our lives and why. I have to admit, it’s a scary place to be–outside of the warm and cozy comfort zone we create for ourselves. But I’d like to know how many great things can happen without taking a step outside of this zone. Movements don’t start with a thought lingering within our heads for a few days and then passing with a sigh and an unfulfilled dream. Big things start to happen when those thoughts and beliefs are shared with others and you begin to see a bigger picture.

Inside and outside of my campus, I see that we all need each other. As students, workers, dreamers, artists, and many more, we each have a piece to offer to each other.  You can only begin to see a beautiful picture when you start bringing the pieces together.

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