Before going to the Gathering Place, I did not have a real understanding of the benefits of service. I thought going to a soup kitchen or a charity event and giving a few hours was only good for my college application and my resume.  

However, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work as an intern at the Gathering Place.  

Neither the Gathering Place nor I had any experience with internships, and as a result my time with them took on a life of its own. Between researching social service providers and interviewing their employees to create a resource database, I was given a lot of time to simply sit down and talk with guests.  

I believe I am extremely fortunate to have been given this opportunity, because after speaking to many of my peers, I learned that most interns are not given a lot of time to actually interact with clientele and instead they only learn about the organization and its mission from the administrative perspective. However, I was able to speak with guests and I not only learned about the struggles and needs of the population that I was serving, but I was also able to forge the most unlikely of friendships. 

The demographic of the Gathering Place is diverse for Maine standards, there are people young and old, from Brunswick and away, and with a wealth of life experiences both good and bad. Despite this diversity, guests welcomed me into their conversations; I was able to learn new life lessons or facts that were previously unknown to me from each person with whom I spoke. This has allowed me to grow in many ways, such as in my studies. 

 For example, guests told me stories about traveling, which demonstrated to me the benefits of travel and encouraged me to study abroad. Other guests told me their frustrations with social services which inspired me to intern at Pine Tree Legal and pursue a career of public service and law. Moreover, these stories have broadened my understanding of my community and my privilege as a student at Bowdoin, which has helped me to be a more critical scholar in the classroom.  

In addition to my academic growth these friendships have allowed me to grow as a person by changing how I perceive people who have different religious or political beliefs, and even people who face mental illness or substance abuse.  

These experiences have allowed me to develop more refined interpersonal skills and change the way I view society. I now have a much more nuanced opinion of what is right and what is wrong and this has continued to help me learn from people with whom I would had previously never spoken. The Gathering Place is a unique organization because all its volunteers are committed to building these long-term relationships and forging the kinds of friendships that allow both those being served and the one performing the service to enrich each other’s lives.   

Both the guests and the volunteers genuinely care about one another, which is illustrated time and time again, like when I sprained by ankle that summer while running, and everyone checked in on me and took the time to remember and wish me luck on the race I ran three weeks later. Additionally, my learning and growth at the Gathering Place is not over, because the staff and volunteers recognize the immense potential that such a unique organization offers, and they have allowed me to take advantage of many these opportunities by joining their Board of Directors, allowing me to work on community outreach projects, and helping me understand many of the day-to day tasks of running a nonprofit. 

Thus, all of my interactions with the Gathering Place have been characterized by a warmth and pleasantness that is defined by the friendships I have developed with volunteers, guests, and staff and the genuine concern they have for every person that walks through their doors.  

 Olivia Giles is a Bowdoin College student, a former intern at the Gathering Place and a member of its board of directors. 

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