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Don’t Forget Your Own Backyard

Lessons from my GU Impacts Experience: Don’t Forget Your Own Backyard

By Lauren Smith, College ’18, GU Impacts Fellow at the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta 

August 22, 2016

Thinking back on this summer, I realize that I now find myself in the position of simultaneously knowing exactly what I want to do in life, while having no strong inkling of how to get there. This particular summer I had the honor of being a GU Impacts Fellow and interning with the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta. Below I have laid out some of the biggest takeaways and lessons I haven taken with me.

  • Don’t focus solely on trying to save the world when your own backyard is also in need. There is a bit of romance associated with serving and aiding those in a far-off, foreign community. It’s probably tied in with the human sense of adventure and the impulse to try something new. While getting out of your comfort zone and interacting with communities different from yours is incredibly valuable, I’ve learned that this should not be done at the expense of forsaking your own home. This summer, it dawned on me that so much of my advocacy and service work has been focused on plights in D.C. and injustices played out internationally, that I had lost sight of the very real struggles in cities closer to home just outside Atlanta. My work with CCI truly opened my eyes to both the beauty and suffering that Atlanta’s citizens were facing, and stoked within me an urge to get more involved in my own “backyard.”
  • Stay optimistic. One of the ways I often describe myself when given the chance is as an optimistic person. A mixture of my faith and upbringing have created within me an urge to always look for the bright side and shun self-discouragement whenever possible. I hope to preserve this optimism embedded within my everyday outlook, and that cynicism and pessimism will never be adjectives with which I describe my views. At CCI, I saw first-hand a 2-year-old startup successfully chip away at major issues that have plagued the city of Atlanta and its citizens for generations. Where individuals and governments have failed or stalled, CCI took an innovative vision and created something new and empowering.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the work – remember the people. I have no idea what career or job I might hold in the future, but I can guess that some form of tedious work is involved. No matter what, though, I hope that I will never let this portion of the job dishearten me. I want to remember that, with whatever I’m working on, very real people and very real lives are involved. While my overall experience at CCI was incredible, there were certainly days it just felt like my purpose revolved around an endless pile of research questions and word documents. Thankfully, whenever I would get close to that funk of monotony, some inspiring event or innovative discussion would take place and give a renewed sense of purpose to everything I was working on. So, as a reminder to myself and to everyone else: “Never lose sight of the people.”

Now back at home, I hope to take these lessons to heart, trying to apply them to my thinking and actions going forward.

The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.

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