Derek Goodman spent every Saturday morning of fall semester in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus, volunteering at a food pantry that predominantly serves Somali refugees. The pantry is one of many services offered by MY Project USA — the largest Muslim social service organization in the state.
Goodman, a second-year in food, agriculture and biological engineering, volunteered alongside members of the Muslim Student Association on campus, many of whom are responsible for running the pantry.
“It was a very different experience at first, because being a white male, I’m not used to being a minority and at the pantry I was a minority,” Goodman said. “I was a little bit uneasy at first, but the people at the pantry were so welcoming, were just an amazing group of students to work alongside.”
Goodman was connected with the pantry through Semester of Service, an initiative offered through the Office of Student Life, which caters to students interested in long-term community service.
“I thought it was something that not a lot of people took advantage of,” Goodman said. “I came to find out that was very true, not a very big program, but a definitely an important one.”
After an application and interview process, Semester of Service places undergraduate students with a nonprofit agency in Columbus to volunteer a minimum of three hours per week.
Since the program began in 2015, more than 350 students have gone through the program, Service and Outreach Coordinator Alyssa Johnson said.
“The whole idea behind Semester of Service is a starting point for people,” Johnson said. “That’s why it is only a semester of service … It’s just to get their feet wet into what volunteering really is like and then from there we can offer them resources.”
Sara Sexton, graduate administrative associate for local service programs, said some applicants are denied because they are overqualified, already having several community service experiences.
“We look to include students who haven’t really had any community service experience at all or they haven’t been able to find an avenue for that here as Ohio State students,” Sexton said.
Johnson said a milestone for the program was seeing a handful of students hired by their placement agencies after graduation.
Goodman, like many students who have completed the program, continues to serve at his site on Saturdays.
Goodman has faced a language barrier at the pantry given the population it serves, but he still has found a way to communicate with the refugees he serves: with a smile. It has been easy for him, after all, for he said the experience during his past semester was “a complete blast” and he enjoyed every minute of it.
“Interacting with the clients with a smile is the most important thing you can do with them,” Goodman said. “It’s the universal language. They definitely see that and built a lot of trust between volunteers.”
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