Julie, Dan, Kyle, Jon, Meera, Owen, Kelsey
As a family, we give a lot to our Lehigh-friends-neighbors-students. We sort of pour our hearts into them, and fully embrace them into our lives. From all outside appearances, you might think we’re providing some sort of student-centered “service” or “outreach,” and, in fact, what we do (through living on campus) is often referred to as that. But when I hear comments about the “service” we are providing by doing what we do, it rubs me the wrong way. Not because I don’t think we are doing a lot for students (trust me, I know more than anyone just how much we are doing for students). But, rather, because in calling it that, it devalues and misrepresents what is actually happening.
People who think what we’re doing is uni-dimensional “student service” are truly misunderstanding what is going on here. What is going on here is a real reciprocal relationship between us and the Lehigh students with whom we interact. We’re building relationships that are genuine. There is give and take, and back and forth. There is community. There is reciprocity. For all that we give, we get back tenfold.
This Saturday, four of our Lehigh-friends-neighbors-students came to Kyle and Owen’s basketball game. They spent the afternoon with us, off campus, at the Bethlehem Township Community Center, cheering from the bleachers for their two favorite 9-year-old-twin-basketball players. Then we all went out to Red Robin, where Braydon and I treated these kids (the bambinos and the students) to a non-dining-hall meal complete with lots of rambunctiousness and goofing off at the table.
This is — dare I say it? — quite unique. I can say with 100% certainty that this is unique at Lehigh. But even I, who went to a small liberal arts college, with an uber-dedicated faculty devoted to out-of-classroom-interaction (where professors are actually encouraged and credited for spending time with students)… even I, who took full advantage of that situation and formed life-long relationships with some of those professors (and sometimes babysat for their kids and/or was invited to their houses for dinner)… even I, who really made the most out of that sort of collegiate residential experience… never experienced anything close to resembling what our Lehigh-friends-neighbors-students are experiencing with us. Although I was in some sense “close” to some of my professors (a fact for which I will be eternally grateful; and a fact of which I’m very proud), I never ever ever would have been hanging out at the local community center on a Saturday afternoon watching their kids play basketball. Voluntarily. Just because I wanted to see one of their games and cheer them on.
We are taking the relationships to a whole other level, I think, in large part because we are doing it as a whole family. We’re giving of ourselves and each other, and in return, we get so much.
Do you know how much it meant to Kyle and Owen to have Jon, Dan, Kelsey, and Julie come to their game? It meant the world to them. My guess is that they’ll never forget it. My guess, too, is that Jon, Dan, Kelsey, and Julie will remember that day long after they’ve forgotten much of the rest of their college experiences. That afternoon will make a much larger impact than any physics lecture or required reading or frat party or extra-curricular-club-event.
I’m betting that the impact will be huge for all involved, in ways that go far beyond what any of us could now imagine.
Saturday there were these special fans in the stands at K & O’s game. And when I say, ‘special,’ I do mean special. These friends-neighbors-students are amazing (them taking a Saturday afternoon to cheer on the Residential Fellow kids is just the tip of the iceberg). I stand back and marvel at these young people, and at the honor that it is for us to know them and have them in our lives. We get the privilege and joy of seeing these students in such an honest and real way. We live with them, we teach them, we learn from them, and we cheer each other on. We’re not doing a service. We’re receiving a gift.