SLCE: What is Your Why?

Ludley Howard, founder of Howard Group, LLC, walked up to the stage, looked out at the audience of nearly 300 students, faculty, staff, and community partners, and posed one question to them:

What is Your Why?

As one of the members in the audience listening in at the Service Learning and Civic Engagement (SLCE) Conference held at the Universities at Shady Grove, I could not help but fall into a state of ponder. How did I define my passion? How could I further harness my “why” power to make an impact in the world?

The keynote speaker’s thought-provoking question was a wonderful segue into the discussions that took place during the workshops that followed. Inside the classroom, the presenter for one of the workshops continued to build on this established theme by asking: “What comes to mind when you think of community service?”

Planting trees. Picking up litter. Volunteering at soup kitchens. Well, this seemed to be a much more simple question than asking us about our why. Then suddenly it clicked. The simplicity of answering the question was precisely part of the underlying issue. In our minds, we had created quite a narrow definition of service. While the acts under the umbrella of “traditional services” are all noble deeds, it was important to understand that service was not exclusive to the activities listed above.

To help illustrate the broad capabilities of this service concept and the power of our why, the latter part of the workshop included a sticky note activity:

Each individual was given 3 sticky notes. On one sticky note, we had to jot down a passion of ours. On another, we wrote down a prevalent issue we have observed in society. On the last sticky note, we were instructed to write down what we could do to potentially bridge this gap between our passion and the problem.

I now turn the spotlight on you:

  1. What do you believe is a need within the community that needs to be addressed?
  2. What is your passion—your why—that drives you?
  3. Lastly, what service can you engage in to bridge the gap between the two?

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

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