Well, the cold has arrived… Along with turkey, eggnog, and most importantly, our fall retreat. As the VISTA Leader here at Serve Philadelphia, I, Dillon Sobilo, was very excited for the retreat. I believe strongly in the importance of community amongst colleagues and find that getting out of the office is best way to create it. I have spent a few years working with volunteers who are giving service in environments of hardship and I can say from experience that you are not guaranteed to be brought together as a group while facing deep-rooted challenges. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to create these bonds and systems of support before entering the fray.
Outward Bound are experts in creating community. Although there are many names for the style, it is commonly referred to as the “Goldie Locks Zone” of learning. This is the perfect environment where the challenge is tough enough that you are compelled to take it on, yet not too difficult where one feels the challenge will be impossible to overcome. Outward Bound is configured in a way that people of all capacity will find their “Goldie Locks Challenge.” Their curriculum is intentionally created with groups beginning on more relaxed “warm-up” exercises focused on breaking down stereotypes, existing group dynamics, and building a safe environment. Then as the day progresses, the activities begin to become more dynamic and require participants to get farther and farther away from their comfort zone. As this begins to pressure the limits of participants, the facilitators of Outward Bound do a great job reiterating that participation is optional and they are not in the business of finding the far side of the “Goldie Locks Zone.” This is very important to note as the day is not yet over.
The final and culminating challenge of the day is a high ropes course that must be completed with a partner. Participants must climb about 10 meters in the air, stand on a half-inch thick wire, and counterbalance their weights using a rope strung between the two participants to reach the end. The total length that the pair must go is about 10 meters and there is nothing to rely on, but your partner. Naturally, there is a great deal of emotion that comes out during this activity, often starting in the realm of fear and finishing with a feeling accomplishment. The simplicity of the task, paired with the diversity of emotions that all participants are certain to feel, is the true art that Outward Bound produces.
Reflecting upon our day makes me think back to previous experiences within the Peace Corps. For some background, I spent a few years working in Panama. First as a Volunteer and then as a Regional Coordinator. In my role as coordinator, I was tasked with arranging quarterly retreats that were very similar in content to the day at Outward Bound. The opportunity to d communities all at the same time, had my heart. To my surprise, I found that this “soft” form of service was very fulfilling. I’ve found that many people in service struggle to connect the relationships made between their day-to-day activities in soft service and the actual impact this work has on humans. I have coprovide support for volunteers, build sustainable programming, and have a positive impact on underserveme the understanding that I cannot begin to mitigate this challenge, however, I find that the positive power held in the possibility to contribute to change and create sustainable systems on a macro/systemic scale is irresistible.
Working with Serve Philadelphia, through the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Services under the Mayor’s Office, has provided just that opportunity. As our program is based off year-long-terms of service, we are currently working to bring more intentionality to our corps trainings while simultaneously adapting our systems to be more sustainable in our annual transitions. I am passionate about strengthening these processes as they will massively alleviate the inherent issues with a cyclical system. Additionally, during the coming year my office is looking to grow our VISTA cohort by nearly 200%. While our goals remain ambitious, I am looking forward to the remainder of my service as both tasks together should bring a productive and empowering 2019.
Dillion is the SERVE Philadelphia VISTA Leader with the Office Of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service.
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