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“What is good service?”

This was the question our group attempted to tackle in last week’s reflection. I came away from our discussion with a strong sense that good, 8-10 week service should lean more towards capacity-building work as opposed to operational work. (I specify the time frame because I think that a day trip to clean up the beach is wonderful, but different from a summer of service.)

Let me try to unpack and contrast that jargon. I think that operational work is what the organization does on a day-to-day basis– which for CEF looked like working with members to achieve their personal goals– and that capacity-building work is what grows/reorganizes/changes the organization as a whole– which for me looked like helping to organize the Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable to have a community discussion on affordable housing/homelessness.

(Some other nomenclature for this dyad that I have been mulling over are micro v. macro-level work and direct action v. systems-level work. I am still thinking about the rhetoric, but I hope the taste of what I’m describing gets through to you.)

Because of my emphasis on capacity-building work, I had previously felt most proud of the systems-level conversations that were starting to burble as a result of this year’s Roundtable. I also felt especially proud of the process documents created for the Roundtable and the Success Board, which document the steps and mistakes involved for future iterations of the projects.

I wanted my work to be impactful, sustainable and meaningful — but I was (am) excluding operational/micro-level work/direct-service work from that.

I hadn’t seen the smiles on the residents’ faces when Beini and I were scrambling to put together our Success Board today. I hadn’t truly felt the warm and genuine appreciation from some of the members I worked with at CEF. I wasn’t seeing those emotions and individual impacts to be as valuable as they undoubtedly are. How can you measure that sort of impact?

In a previous blog post, I talked about how traditional economics undervalues emotional labor and “women’s work.” I think I have been undervaluing that kind of work as well. Although I still believe that good (8-10 week) service should be mindful of long-term impacts and probably lean toward capacity-building work, I am working on better valuing the work that’s a little smaller and a little less shiny.

Doing so might be hard, but I know it’ll be worth it.