Glimpses from Welcome Week 2018

What a week it’s been!

Today is the first day of classes for Kent State University students, but for those of us at H2O Kent, things have already been going full-tilt for a few days now.

As students started moving into town, we mobilized dozens of staff and students from H2O to go out and meet them. We chalked up the campus sidewalks. We handed out cards and flyers. We met people playing volleyball, and ice-skating, and serving pancakes from an electric griddle at the corner of Water Street and Main Street in downtown Kent.

Yesterday, though, was an extra-special day of making connections.

The morning started with Kent State’s “Freshmen Day of Service,” where incoming students can sign up for service projects that benefit the surrounding community while also getting to know some of their new classmates.

H2O staff and students helped to lead a few of the different projects, and I got the opportunity to work on turning used plastic grocery bags into a sort of yarn that could be woven into mats for people experiencing homelessness.

I’m honestly not sure how meaningfully we impacted the issue of homelessness in northeast Ohio through this project, but I really liked the way that it got us working with our hands: smoothing out plastic bags, cutting them into three-inch loops, stringing the loops together, and then crocheting the long strands of plastic into mats… And even more, I liked the space that the project allowed for making personal connections within our team of volunteers.

I feel like I genuinely got to know a lot of the students who were involved in this project, and conversation about putting others first, learning about each other’s spiritual backgrounds, and inviting people to H2O felt really natural. A high percentage of the people in my service project seemed genuinely inclined to check out H2O activities at some point in the next days or weeks.

The afternoon, however, called for a very different sort of mentality.

H2O joined a throng of fraternities, sororities, athletic programs, academic programs, businesses, and other student organizations for the annual KSU Blastoff in the heart of the campus. We had dozens of students equipped with clipboards and surveys to approach people from the crowds and say, “Would you like to fill out a survey and get some free pizza out of the deal?”

Compared to the “Freshmen Day of Service” interactions, it’s a significantly lower percentage of participants who end up expressing any meaningful level of interest in H2O (about 700 from an estimated 1600 surveys completed). Still, it’s an amazing opportunity to put ourselves in front of Kent State students and create opportunities for follow-up.

 

In addition to the surveys, we also like to join the carnival atmosphere of the KSU Blastoff with some sort of creative activity of our own (in the past, we’ve had a ping-pong game to win a goldfish, or a frisbee-throwing accuracy challenge to win a Kent State ball cap, or a raffle to win a deluxe Kent State hockey jersey). This year: we decided to go “full-circus” and draw people to our table with a “Beat the Freaks” challenge.

We had H2O people dressed in masks and capes, prepared to face off against other students in arm-wrestling, a staring contest, a trivia challenge, and planking (abdominal endurance exercises), and with one of our young staff members serving as “ringmaster,” we succeeded in drawing a crowd very quickly. Even Flash, the University mascot, showed up to watch — and then participate — in the planking challenge!

It was a lot of fun. Overall, I’d say we had a very successful Blastoff to end a very successful day of outreach on campus.

But it was definitely an endurance challenge! By the time I got home at the end of the day, I was exhausted. There were physical elements to my fatigue, for sure, but I’d say the emotional fatigue was even greater. A whole day of meeting new people… trying to remember their names… envisioning our staff and student leaders for their tasks… trouble-shooting unexpected challenges as they came up… encouraging our people when they started feeling tired… and trying to stay warm and engaging the whole time… Whew!

I’m proud of the way we pushed hard all the way to the end. We were like farmers working from before dawn until after dusk to get their seeds in the ground when conditions are just right. Now, we just have to wait and see what sprouts.

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