Finding Purpose through Service-Learning with Transition US

I am a Masters’ student in Ecopsychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado and I began working with Carolyne, Marissa and Nils at Transition US as part of my service-learning project in October 2015. Over the six months that my project spanned, I had no idea just how much it would change me and my perspectives. I split my required one hundred twenty service hours between data entry and calculating carbon emission and cost savings as part of the Transition Streets guidebook.Through my service, and particularly through Transition Streets, I learned an overwhelming amount of information about the environmental impacts of our actions, which made an indelible mark on me psychologically and behaviorally.

At first, as I delved into the facts about our impact on the environment, I felt hopeless. However, I began to understand the behavioral impact I personally have on the environment and what actions I, and by extension all of us, can take to reduce our carbon footprint and remain healthy in the process. By putting real numbers onto abstract concepts, like carbon emissions, the environmental crisis was made real for me.

I think the reason that Transition, and its projects have momentum and work so well, is because it is united in community, as it is “driven by people’s enthusiasm and ideas,” per Rob Hopkins, that are networked and easily passed along. In Transition Streets there is a shared sense of learning and action creating a comradery and connection that keeps the project going because there is personal and universal interest in doing so.

For the first time, while doing my service learning, I felt a passion rise within me that I had not felt before – I was propelled by a force greater than me. I felt my life was purposeful. Perhaps it was the idea that knowledge is power and what I was learning - the sheer impact of our actions - could be used to make a difference on the planet. And I asked myself, where it might make the most difference, when there are so many places we can put our efforts? I believe with our youth. Equipped with this powerful information, they will grow up with a better and deeper understanding of how their actions impact all of life, ultimately leading them to make different and better choices then their ancestors.

When we begin to acknowledge just how bad things are, it is hard not to sink into the depths of despair. The work of Transition invites us to examine the impact our human family has on life-at-large, while instilling the hope that community - when banded together – might just be able to make a difference. The hard facts that the human race is destroying its own life support system is deeply distressing, and has certainly saddened and depressed me to great depths.

However, Transition has helped me to learn how I can make a direct action difference in the community. This sentiment is built into the Transition movement, as it encourages that, “if we wait for government to act, it'll be too little, too late; if we act as individuals, it'll be too little; but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.” For me, an emerging meaning of service-learning is finding one’s proper place in community so that one may serve and learn, and in doing so both the community and individual can transform themselves and one another. I feel that in some small way, we are on our way to that transition and transformation in mind and heart. My work with Transition is not over, in fact it has just begun!

By Jen Borrow

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