Last week, I wrote an article about why community service is an essential part of the college experience. In it, I described my personal relationship with service and elaborated on how community service provides opportunities for personal growth in every type of student. But I knew there was so much more of this service story to tell. So, I sat down with Emma Parkinson, the Storytelling Program Director at the Boston University Community Service Center, and together we unraveled the rest of it.
I got to know Emma on my Alternative Service Break trip to Nashville; learning about her passion for community service programs at BU makes her the perfect candidate for this deeper exploration of college community service. We met up on a drizzly Friday afternoon in the Starbucks Coffee under Warren Towers. Although the store was crowded, the warm scent of baked goods and coffee got our conversation going.
Emma is a senior majoring in English and minoring in journalism. Between classes, leading admissions tours around campus, clubs, and even another job, she finds time to work in the Community Service Center (CSC) as the Storytelling Program Manager. Her responsibilities as the Storytelling program manager include (but are not limited to): running the official CSC podcast Ask and Tell, running the CSC blog, managing the CSC word press site, promoting CSC events, and generally raising awareness about the CSC amongst the BU student body. Among all of these responsibilities, Emma enjoys producing Ask and Tell the most. The podcast is produced in seasons consisting of three, five-minute episodes in which a BU student shares their personal connection to a specific topic.
Learn more about the work Emma Parkinson does and listen to Ask and Tell on the CSC website.
When I asked her why, she said “When you ask someone to tell their story, it’s fun to see them get into it. I often get to see a new side of people when they talk about something, they are passionate about.” It’s this genuine enthusiasm for sharing stories that drive Emma to do community service. For Emma, storytelling is the foundation that service is built on. Often, when people are doing community service, they find it difficult to relate to the community or individuals they are helping. But people can overcome this disconnect by simply sharing a story about themselves. Storytelling finds the common ground between individuals and reminds those serving of the value that all people have.
Doing service takes away all the economic or social barriers between people and just allows them to understand each other on the value that everyone inherently has just by existing right here, right now. This type of human to human connection is hard to find anywhere else. Emma says that this connection also drives her to participate in community service. Her personal passion for human connection extends to advocating for more people to participate in community service on campus.
Emma feels that her college experience is somewhat defined by the work she’s done with the CSC. She says, “Doing community service challenged me to grow in ways that academics couldn’t.” As a freshman, she found that CSC was the place on campus where she felt comfortable but also challenged to grow as an individual. She tells every prospective student she meets leading tours at BU to find that place on campus. Community service is the best way to find this place as a freshman.
Whether it’s through the First Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP) program or just by attending the one-day events that the CSC organizes, Emma stresses that community service is so important for all students to try at least once. Even if they don’t find that the CSC is their place for personal growth on campus, service can be a stepping stone on the path to ultimately finding that place or group. The college experience is defined by the personal growth people go through during their four years in school. Community service doesn’t just encourage this type of growth, it takes it to the next level because it helps students find like-minded friends who will push them to grow harder than they could push themselves. Above all the development benefits, Emma also elaborated that base-level opportunities and connections that students can make through community service are invaluable.
As a senior, Emma will be graduating in a few short weeks. Although she is sad to leave BU and the home she has found in the CSC office, she is looking forward to finding a job in publishing. Giving back to the community (no matter where she may move after graduation) will always have a presence in her work.
The time she has spent doing community service with Boston University has helped her find some direction for the new phase of life that she is about to dive into.