DCLead14 Spotlight: I was able to serve and gain a family… what R U waiting for?

By: Nicole Ramos 

“Wow. I have no words to describe today’s reflection. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to connect with people this much! #DCLead14 ”

Those were the words that I tweeted Tuesday night after our leadership activity of the night. For spring break, 40 first year Rutgers students including myself embarked on a journey to Washington, DC to do service specifically engaging with the issues of hunger and homelessness. Personally speaking, I thought that we were going to do service and then meet some other first years and that would be it. This experience was so much more than that, I am so happy that my assumption was wrong.

1505162_10203041076084066_291776276_n[1]In the morning we participated in service projects ranging from volunteering at a food pantry, to working at a youth shelter, to preparing 5000 meals at a local kitchen that serve the DC community. However, aside from serving the people of DC, this trip focused a lot on leadership development. Thought the various activities, we were able to discover things about ourselves and each other that we didn’t know beforehand. We learned about assumptions and privileges. The activities strengthened us not only as a team but as a family. After the activities and the service trips we were able to reflect upon all that we had experienced that day. Reflection allowed people to be vulnerable and open up their feelings in a nonjudgmental environment. Every individual on the trip was able to feel a connection to the activity we participated in or the service we took part of.

My favorite service activity that we participated in was on Wednesday when all 52 of us, students, site leaders, and staff partners, worked together to cook a meal for about 100 people. Our guests of the night were anyone who wanted to share a meal. That ranged from those who were homeless, to those who may have needed a meal or maybe just a conversation. Everyone played a board game with the guest at their table and we were waiters and waitresses for them during the dinner. The best part however was getting to talk and personally know the individual. They all had such different and fascinating stories. They were very humble and kind and they exemplified such joyous souls and personalities. All of my fellow friends connected to their guests. The guest that I spoke to reminded me of my uncle. Our meal with our honored guests reiterated the fact that those who are homeless are not just homeless, but they are human beings and deserve respect. In this society many people tend to dehumanize those who are homeless and treat them as if they are lesser. However they are not and they require basic human needs: love, attention, and interaction.

1974988_10203041033122992_818780523_n[1]In addition to the fact that we gained and learned so many skills and experiences, one thing that we made was a family. Coming into this trip, I personally knew one person. I was scared that I wouldn’t get to know others and that the majority of people would already know each other. However, beginning on the first day we became an unbreakable family. We shared deep secrets with each other that most of us couldn’t share with our closest friends. We laughed, cried and took millions of selfies. But we will never forget the bond we made and experiences we shared. We also formed a great bond with our site leaders. They became mentors for us and people we could joke around with or whom we could count on to process a difficult experience.  If someone were to ask me if I would so this again, I would say yes without a doubt. Nothing can compare to the experience and all that I have gained from this trip.

I was able to serve and gain a family, what R U waiting for?


IMG_3134Nicole Ramos is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences freshman studying Nutritional Sciences under the Dietetics option. She is also a resident of Douglass Residential College as well. Nicole is on the Douglass Orientation Committee, a Red Pine Ambassador, a member of RU Gluten Free, an Udi’s and Glutino Campus Ambassador, and a member of the First Year Fifteen Leadership Program. She aspires to become a dietitian and work for a non-for-profit in the future.


DCLead14 Spotlight: I’ve become a Rutgers Student Leader … what RU waiting for?

By: Rhea Pillai

Somewhere amidst the shrill 6am alarms, wading through snow to get to our destination, making ourselves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before bedtime and fighting for shower time, I fell in love.

I fell in love with how 40 random individuals (Site Leaders and Staff Partners too) from different walks of life, different interests and different personalities could leave those differences behind to serve one purpose: serving the vital, predominant issues of hunger and homelessness.

I fell in love with how these individuals struck a perfect balance between work and play, sacrificed their needs for others and learned what I consider the most important leadership aspect of all: the ability to collaborate.

The last three days have been a surreal blur. From our daily schedule of waking up, getting dressed, leaving to a work site, leadership activities, and then YSOP reflections with the program’s coordinators to finally wrapping up with small group meetings where we reflect on our activities for the day, this bunch has been through a lot.

On day 1, we volunteered at the DC Central Soup Kitchen, where our tasks mainly relied on culinary skills. Most of us are now certain we can prepare a decent meal without burning the place down. We grated carrots, whisked mayonnaise, and then mixed all the ingredients together to create a beautiful carrot and raisin salad, from which were sent to elementary schools and homeless shelters.

Day 2 was my favorite. Although my task consisted of what I considered menial: labeling boxes that would be sent to old age homes and homeless shelters, my site leaders assured me no task was menial when it boiled down to offering a helping hand. I thank my site leaders Gina and Kwame that praised every little effort of ours, encouraging us to give our best shot. The Site Leaders and Staff Partners deserve the highest praise for letting us be so flexible with our duties. “You’re all leaders!” is what they tell us. No amount of gratitude would suffice to express how great this trip has been so far!

Day 3 was at Food and Friends, an organization where we were required to package groceries to send them off to shelters that mainly dealt with people that had illnesses that prevented them from eating all kinds of foods. We had to ensure they got a proper diet and appropriate nutrition. The workers there were especially courteous and so thankful when we dropped by; they seemed to love their jobs and I know see why. It’s so empowering.

Day 4 (today and the final work day) involved environmentally-inclined service. We were made to spread mulch, pick trash and the most physically challenging task of all, pulling weeds! Jeanette, the woman that greeted us told me how her passion for environmentalism grew: she lived in a condo by the woods and upon one day waking up to see all the trees and plants she lived around were gone, she was broken. From then on, Jeanette was determined to make a change; she shut down her visual designing business, a move her friends and family thought was crazy. She sacrificed her comfort zone and source of income to accomplish what she was passionate about and my respect for her spirit is endless.

She was inspiring and I see similar levels of inspiration, appreciation, determination and perseverance growing within us, little by little, every single day. I could see all of those combined on the night of day 3 when we had dinner with guests at YSOP. Everybody broke out of their comfort zones, served a self made dinner to them, playing board games while chatting. Somebody pointed out that we learned more from them than they did from us and that their experience, struggles and bumps along the way made their lives richer than ours in some ways. I have to agree with that.

I’m incredibly proud of everyone’s open mindedness in embracing and absorbing so much that has gone on in these past few days. It was exhausting, overwhelming but I bet I could speak for most of the group when I say this was an experience we wouldn’t trade in a million years. Even if it meant waking up past 7am, being able to take showers whenever we wanted and not waking up to the obnoxious rooster alarm (whose alarm is that anyway?!).

I’ve become a Rutgers Student Leader … what RU waiting for?


10012495_10203096622477737_1488181345_nRhea Pillai is a 19 year old Journalism student at Rutgers University, hailing from New Delhi, India. Her passion for community service and volunteer work in the past has paved way for her to work at animal shelters in India, orphanages and a school for children with special needs in Ghana  and very recently, the opportunity to serve the hungry and homeless in Washington D.C.

She is also actively involved with the International Students Association on campus and enjoys blogging and traveling the world.

The Trials and Tribulations of Leadership

By: Cierra Kaler-Jones

Inevitably, we all aspire to change the world. Leadership appears to be the perfectly paved road to achieve this large scale goal. Leadership is often glorified, looks prestigious on paper, and appears glamorous from the surface of outsiders peering in. In reality, there are scars underneath the visage of glamour. Leadership requires an endless amount of trial and error. You often have to learn the value of trusting your own instincts and celebrating your own strides towards a goal, even when they’re not ideal in everyone else’s eyes. Leadership takes guts. It takes a special ability to be resilient in the face of conflict.

Last year after interning at the national non-profit organization, She’s the First, I immediately knew I wanted to start a campus chapter at Rutgers to raise money for girl’s education in developing nations so they could be the first in their families to graduate from secondary school. It seemed daunting, a little scary, but I felt such a deep connection to the issue that I convinced myself that I could garner up the support from my fellow peers and this idea could take off.

With no baseline, I had to start from scratch. I had no idea where to even begin in starting a new organization and the answers I sought after were not cut and dry or readily available. I had to fill out what seemed like repetitious pages of information, often to have them returned to be revised and revisited. I ran all around campus trying to construct the right team to head this organization, find an advisor who was as equally enthusiastic as I was, and recruit members. All of these tasks, in addition to many restless nights planning the structure of meetings and events, consumed me.

At our first fundraising event last semester, we had minimal attendance. Some would regard that as a complete failure on our part, but as the night came to a close, I had a revelation that it wasn’t. Our Social Media Manager came up to me to tell me that after screening a short clip of the documentary Girl Rising, those in attendance revisited the sign-in table to empty their pockets and wallets in support of the cause. Just because we didn’t reach our fundraising or attendance goal after all the work we put in, didn’t mean we weren’t making an impact. To those who came, it was an eye-opening experience to indulge in a new topic and see the issue of universal girls’ education through a novel lens.

As a leader, you have a clear cut set-out vision of exactly how you want something to look, and when it doesn’t happen, you feel like a failure. You often look at numbers and quantitatively how many lives you’ve affected. It’s not about the numbers, as they are no clear cut way to measure impact. This is the beauty that lies within the depths of true leadership. When you reflect in retrospect, the tireless work and effort can teach lifelong lessons. Changing the world starts with changing the mindset of just one person.

I’m changing the world one person at a time, What R U waiting for? 


unnamed[3]Cierra Kaler-Jones is a junior studying Social Work with minors in Critical & Comparative Race & Ethnic Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and Criminology. She currently serves as the Founding Co-President of She’s the First*{Rutgers}, Co-Chair of the Recruitment Committee for the Institute for Women’s Leadership, is a member of the nationally ranked Rutgers University Dance Team, and is the Head Chairwoman of the Douglass Orientation Committee.  Her dedication to education, coupled with her duties as a local titleholder in the Miss America Scholarship Organization, drove her to start The Arts Empowerment Project, an organization that uses visual and performing arts as a strategy to empower economically disadvantaged adolescent girls.