by Bridget Kern
Over the past few weeks I have experienced a new service learning opportunity. While I still attend Spanish Story Time at the Urbana Free Library every month, I also found myself volunteering with the School of Social Work. When I initially signed up to work with the School of Social Work, I thought that I would be babysitting children while their mothers attended a weekly seminar about depression. Once I arrived however, I found that I had been recruited for a different task. The director of the group sessions found that during the course of the semester many women were unable to make it to the weekly group meetings because their carpool driver had other commitments and no other transportation was available to them. While Champaign-Urbana has one of the best bus systems in the state, many of the women were intimidated to utilize the bus as a method of travel because the schedules, buses and signs are all in English. My new project for the School of Social Work is to meet women without transportation at their homes and teach them how to use the MTD to get to their group meetings on campus.
At first I was very nervous about this volunteer project. I was not concerned so much about speaking Spanish with the women; I was more worried about trying to find my way around parts of Urbana that I had never been to before to meet the woman I was working with. These feeling however helped me empathize with how the women trying to use the buses to come to campus must feel. If it was this stressful for me to use the bus to get to a new part of Urbana, it must be much more difficult for someone who doesn’t speak English to work up the courage to take a bus and not know they will be able to get directions if they need to. After catching the Gold route bus, I successfully arrived at Perkins Rd and Cunningham Ave to meet with the woman and her children. I found it was difficult to explain the idea of a transfer because the woman had never used the bus before. Even though I did not know the word in Spanish for transfer, I explained to the woman could get off the bus at a central bus terminal and then change to any other route which would take her anywhere she wanted to go in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Overall this service project has left me feeling like I made a positive impact on someone’s life. The woman that I was working with had never ridden the bus before in her life, which meant that she was dependent on her mother or brother to drive her and her daughters wherever she needed to go. Now that someone took the time to show her how to use the bus she can be more independent. This will help her greatly in feeling like she has more control over her own life. Instead of depending on a family member to take her to work, she can now take the bus which stops almost directly in front of her place of employment. Riding the bus will open up many opportunities for all of the women who attend the group and are dependent on others for transportation. The women can now feel free to schedule appointments at their convenience, shop whenever they like and set their own work schedules. While many of the women signed up for group sessions with the School of Social Work to learn about depression, some of the women have learned how to become more independent by riding the bus.