The day I made an impact

posted by
Colleen Dunbar,

Project Specialist,
ASU Lodestar Center

A few Decembers ago when I was home in Vancouver, I went with some girlfriends to serve breakfast and hand out holiday gift bags at a drop-in center for the less fortunate, where community members are offered shelter, activities, and a daily hot meal. The morning that we went also happened to be Women’s Wednesday.

I don’t remember her name, or really what she looked like, but I remember her asking us for a pen to write with. I also remember her sitting by herself, hunched over a table, long after the scrambled eggs and hash browns had run out.

Once we had finished cleaning up and were getting ready to leave, she came into the kitchen. She handed a few of us letters, said they were for everyone, and then she left.

The letter that I held was titled “Favorite Ladies,” and this is what it said:

Finding Pride in American Service

posted by
Dianna Schwartz,
Public Allies Arizona Alumna /
Program Associate,
New Global Citizens

About eighteen months ago, I was standing outside a Thai classroom in the open courtyard of an elementary school in Bangkok, watching from a second-story perch as Thai children "marched" in the center recreation area. As an American who had traveled extensively in Europe before, I often harbored the telltale sign of a Catholic — guilt — when representing my country on foreign turf.

The U.S., known for having a culture of excess, had often given me reasons to feel apologetic when interacting with foreign civilizations. I had learned to keep my head down, to speak quietly and thoughtfully, to keep my opinions to myself, and, when all else failed, to tell people that I was Canadian.

I was poised to enter a classroom and represent my country again, this time to forty third-graders who might never make it to the U.S. on their own. I had just been told that part of the value I brought as an English teacher was being Goodwill Ambassador, bringing U.S. culture to a generation of Thai youth. If they never travel abroad in their life, this will be all they know of the U.S. I watched the marching students below and mulled over that awesome responsibility, and, oddly enough, felt the dawning of a supremely foreign thought.

While we certainly have reasons to be reluctant to announce our U.S. heritage loudly, we also have reasons to be proud to call ourselves U.S. citizens. Not every country exports volunteers in the way our country does — the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Cross Cultural Solutions, Atlas Corps, Global Leadership Adventures... the list continues on ad infinitum.