I think I’ve lived in Raleigh long enough to be considered a “Raleighite,” having subjected the city to pet names like “Raleighwood” and “RaRa.” I can’t think of anywhere else to go other than the state’s capital. Raleigh is my home now.
So how fitting is it to give back to the city and devote time and service in celebrating the community that brought us both the Carolina Hurricanes and Clay Aiken? Service Raleigh is a chance to do just that, to join thousands of Raleigh citizens whom actually care about this great city and want to impact the community. It is a day for students from various organizations on campus to go out to sites around the city, working on service projects like helping out in homeless shelters or planting trees. It takes a numerous effort to volunteer, one that can only be fueled by a love for the city, a love of Raleighwood.
Yet, I felt this year’s event, in its twelfth year, was extremely disorganized and disproportionate. I felt some of the jobs weren’t service at all. Landscaping? I would be better off feeding the homeless or reading to children than planting petunias on church property. It gives me the suspicion that they’re exploiting us for free labor.
But I loved Raleigh enough to get up on a Saturday morning, despite the early hour and the talks of rain and cancellations. I signed up to volunteer with my fellow DJs from WKNC, as an attempt to meet music-obsessed individuals like myself. So many students pass the DJ training class each year, it’s really hard to get to know people at the station, much less their real name.
“Your name is?” I start an awkward introduction with a DJ. She smiles and tells me her real name, but then I pause and do a double take. “What’s your DJ name?” I ask. I nod knowingly at her second response, though it was hard to see the purveyor of mo-town in the shape of a sweet, little girl.
We stood around amid a sea of shirts depicting the iconic wolf emblem, which strangely resembled Shepard Fairley’s iconic Obama poster, and ate a breakfast of doughnuts and bagels. Soon after, we were joined by a group of graduate students in communication, whose team leader didn’t show up, and headed out to our field sites.
It was only a short little while before our car hit a pothole and blew out two tires. “This is what happens when you try to do something good,” I quip. Naturally, the grad students weren’t in the mood for jokes. We waited around for a towing agency and met up with the Wakeboard and Waterski Club at a local farm. Our assignment: build a greenhouse.
We stood around some more for the captain to show up- a generous man who eats yard work for breakfast, metaphorically speaking. ‘Who’s got gloves?” he barked. I had, but I wasn’t going to raise my hand if no one else was going to. I dug my grandma gloves deeper into my pocket. The captain looked a bit downtrodden at first, but quickly overcame his anguish. He directed orders to the wake boarders and handed them some heavy metal bars.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Do you want to go to the church?” asks one of the grad students. The church was the other field site with mostly landscaping work and no handling of heavy metal bars. Given the promise of less labor-inducing work, I complied. “Yeah, let’s go to church,” I said. In the car ride back, I realized “church” was a code word for “bail.” We left Service Raleigh without doing any actual, well, service. “It’s ridiculous,” she griped, “There wasn’t anything for us to do. We might as well just stand around for two hours.”
Don’t get her wrong. She loves Raleigh. We all do. But maybe she’d love it even more if its potholes didn’t blow out two of her tires. It may seem selfish, but frankly, I don’t blame her. The drones of people don’t just come out for the free t-shirts and breakfast. Students come out every year in the thousands because they want to help out around the city, and that’s where Service Raleigh failed them. This year’s event wasn’t very well-structured. No one had a sense of where to go or what to do. Unprepared as we were, it was still just really frustrating to stand around waiting all day for something to happen when we should be actively engaging in something meaningful. Have us fill in some of those potholes. At least that would be useful.
Better luck next year, RaRa.