By Chelsea Frazee
After my junior year in college, I did something that was truly terrifying for me. I took a year off of school and moved to Los Angeles to do a year of full-time service. I spent my year with City Year, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce the high school dropout crisis by placing young people in some of the nation’s toughest school districts as tutors and mentors to at-risk students. It was one of the most challenging, emotional and rewarding years of my life.
I served in a middle school in East Los Angeles with 16 other people. We led morning clubs, worked in math and English classrooms throughout the day, held a leadership program during lunch and ran an after school program that taught social justice issues. My morning typically began at 5 a.m., and I often didn’t make it home before 7 or 8 in the evening. One or two weekends a month I was involved in service projects at schools. Throughout the year I learned a lot about myself, developed as a leader, learned to live selflessly and met a lot of amazing and inspirational people.
I can’t pinpoint what drove me to take that year off, but I do know my experiences up to that time played a significant role in my decision. Drury created an environment in which I was encouraged to explore the world with a genuine curiosity, to be engaged in my community and to follow my passion wherever it took me. I saw an opportunity to have a very real impact and I snatched it.
I came back to Drury with a new perspective and an eagerness to jump into another meaningful experience. I was fortunate enough to find that through the SIFE team (now Enactus). SIFE had always been a big part of my Drury experience, but with my newfound perspective I felt a stronger connection to community projects.
I became involved in a project that sparked my interest in social enterprise—business with a purpose. I knew after graduation that I needed to find a way to combine my love of service and business.
Post graduation, I returned to Los Angeles and to City Year, this time in the social enterprise component as a civic engagement project leader. My small but mighty seven-person team organized school beautification service days for corporations and their volunteers. We did a mix of murals, light construction projects and gardening. We had service days with crews ranging from 30 people to 1,200 people.
Overall, we transformed 26 schools and engaged over 2,800 volunteers. I learned a lot in my second service year, from project and volunteer management to using a circular saw and assembling scaffolding.
I finished my second service year with a job offer, but turned it down for several reasons—the timing wasn’t right, it wasn’t the right fit, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in California, head back to Missouri or go home to Texas. I was faced with my most difficult challenge to date: unemployment. There’s an excitement about all of the possibilities and where your next job could take you; however, there’s a lot of self-doubt and discouragement. At one point, I left my apartment determined not to come back without a job. Two hours later, I came home with a canvassing job. That lasted for about a month. Throughout my ups and downs, I was fortunate enough to have a supportive network of family and friends, as well as great mentors. Many of my professors at Drury have given me great advice and guidance, reminding me to never settle for less than what I want out of my career and life.
During this time, I started volunteering with an organization called Food Forward. They create access to healthy food by gleaning fruits and vegetables from farmers markets and fruit trees, and allocating it to hunger relief agencies. I found a community that I really enjoy. I’ve met a lot of incredibly interesting people, formed relationships with many of the farmers and hunger-relief agencies, and found a way to give back to a cause I am passionate about.
I now have a job with an online education company, but I still lead a glean team on Sundays at the farmers market. I would like to eventually go to grad school to focus on food politics, sustainable food systems and nutrition so that I can get more involved in food justice and food security. The last few years have been a wild ride for me, and I am excited to see where the next few years take me.