This is the document I wish I’d had when I started my life at Centenary College of Louisiana in the SBC. This list won’t include the givens: everyone knows (or quickly learns) that Strawn’s has the best pie, Rhino Coffee is the best off-campus study spot, and students get in free at the Robinson Film Center. This guide, then, covers the things I learned to appreciate too late in my college career/stay in Shreveport. Trust it; hang it on your dorm room fridge; don’t do Life at Centenary without these gems:
 

CULTURE
 

R. W. Norton Art Gallery (+ gardens)
4747 Creswell Ave

Features:
a remarkable, super-diverse art gallery
beautiful gardens, great for picnicking, studying, walking/running
the huge (and I mean huge) wind-chimes in the gardens; just too cool

Pro Tips:
Go during Azalea Week, the approximate week in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom. Imagine pink and white blooms as far as the eye can see.
Know that the Folks Who Be recently banned photography and pets; I still Instagram it every time my dog, River, and I hang out there.
 

Texas Avenue Makers’ Fair
Corner of Texas Ave and Elvis Presley Blvd

Features:
locally- produced products: visual art, food, apparel, housewares, etc

Pro Tips:
Be sure to carry with you money and a big shopping bag. Seriously.
 

Meadows Museum of Art
on campus (you’d think this convenience would mean students would take full advantage of this lovely part of the world . . . but no)

Features:
Jean Despujols permanent collection
outrageously cool, never-boring visiting exhibits

Pro Tips:
Attend show openings; (delicious) free food and drink aside, they’re just a lot of fun—cool people, great art, stimulating dialogue.
Follow the Friends of the Meadows on Facebook; you don’t want to miss any of their events.
 

Greenwood Cemetery
On Stoner Ave, where Centenary Blvd becomes Market St

Features:
graves (duh) of tons of people really important to Shreveport’s history, including four mayors and the namesakes of various landmarks around town
grand memorials
an informational area, complete with a map and description of the area
a surprisingly lovely pond and fountain

Pro Tips:
Lace up your sneakers, take your camera, and set aside a couple of hours (or at least one hour; I could spend three or four there, but I do recognize that I’m perhaps strange in this regard).
 

FOOD
 

Bistro Byronz
6104 Line Ave

Features:
dining environment that lends itself to college-kid casual (yoga pants) and fancy shmancy
delicious food (duh)
a great little porch that’s perfect for sunny days

Pro Tips:
Order the Bleu Cheese Chips (or the non-bleu ones, if you’re lame). Your life will never be the same. During particularly rough schoolwork weeks, my roommate and I have been known to call-in cheese chips and eat them at home.
 

Superior Grill
6123 Line Ave

Features:
as you surely know, they’ve got great Mexican food

Pro Tips:
What you probably don’t know is that they have the best dessert ever: The Holy Grail. I think it’s listed on the menu as ice cream pie, but it’s totally known as The Holy Grail, for reasons that will be made clear to you the moment the spoon enters your mouth.
 

Jabez & Jabes
4460 Youree Dr

Features:
calm atmosphere
delicious and affordable food; best sushi in town

Pro Tips:
Order the Fuji Mountain. Proceed to revel in your elevated coolness.
 

Maxwell’s Market
4861 Line Ave

Features:
typical market fares—meat, produce, packaged food, libations
not-as-typical fares—phenomenal dips, marinades, breads
prepared food section
made-to-order sandwiches and burgers

Pro Tips:
Call ahead to order any hot sandwiches.
Don’t skip the fountain drink; their ice machine has good ice (like Sonic ice).
Their rosemary bread is to die for.
 

SHOPPING
 

King Hardware
4834 Line Ave (not on Kings Hwy . . . )

Features:
hardware
some women’s apparel
jewelry
great gifts

Pro Tips:
Stock up on the Caldera linen spray. Your dorm-mates will love you for using it, and you’ll be even more excited to get into bed every night (slash every time you take a nap). It is a product of the gods.
 

And now, A Few Pieces of General Advice:

Learn how to get around via bicycle (also, own a bicycle). Our neck of the woods is pretty bike-able; you can easily get from campus to Rhino, the Norton, Brookshires (both the Kings Highway one and the fancy Line Ave one), even the health food store on Youree. Not only will this knowledge allow you to travel sans-automobile, it will also help you learn the fastest routes via car. The easiest way to start figuring out the lay of the land: ask someone (probably a professor or staff member) (or me) to draw you a basic map of the Highlands. Then start pedaling; you’ll figure things out pretty quickly.

Work hard not to forget how beautiful campus is. Crumley Gardens? Outrageously pretty. The Hardin porch swing? The perfect spot to read, write, have philosophical conversations. Even interiors, like the English Department Lounge, are lovely. Enjoy every second you get to spend here.

Decide what you love, and then do that—and leave everything else alone. Don’t join an organization because you like the idea of being in that organization; join only if you will love more than the idea of it. Be selective and then generous with your most precious resource, your time. College passes in four (or three, or five, or however many) years’ time whether you’re spread too thin or luxuriously free. I’ve been both spread too thin and miserably bored with too much time on my hands; neither situation is good.

DISCLAIMER: This is for my sake alone; it’s something like 2,000 words (yeah) and probably boring. If you’re, say, procrastinating or experiencing severe insomnia or would just happen to enjoy a relatively long account of my college years, read on.

Freshman year:
Moved into the dorms weeks before classes started for soccer preseason. Got to know my roommate—a totally-tolerate Mormon (whew) named Faith Clingen (now Pena). About died during two-a-days. Started classes; fell in love with college and with my college. Joined the existing Invisible Children club and helped host a screening. Got roped into Rush Week; surprised myself and everyone else by pledging a sorority. For a few weeks, had too much good, clean fun with my new “sisters”—then dropped (so not my scene). Made friends with Hinton Foster, the most spontaneous and energetic friend I’ve ever had (laughed and adventured with him until he transferred schools). Suffered through soccer season on the bench, constantly down on myself for letting a miserable team culture affect my game, my spirit; quit the team the day after our last game and replaced it with a volunteer coaching gig.

Started babysitting again. Took my favorite class ever, “Advanced Grammar, Rhetoric, and Composition,” with four ideal classmates and a professor who’d come to be a mentor and one of my closest friends. Let obsession creep back into my life—ran many miles every day (glorious), ate nothing but organic cereal and dry salad (not glorious); this diet resulted in severe stomach pain (my “mystery illness”) that wasn’t diagnosed until after many examinations, an MRI, and an endoscopy (the cure: fewer raw vegetables, more fat—go figure). Experienced my first Corrington Award week; delighted when Joy Williams invited our class to a bar (we declined) and then showed up to her reading smelling of booze, her eyes masked by sunglasses she’d not remove. Went to Key West with Faith for Spring Break; we came back to campus bronze. Turned 18; went skydiving (naturally). Also got tatted—Hinton took me (of course) across the street to SkinWorks, and I got white ink needled into my wrist, two words commemorating a professor’s brilliant speech at that year’s President’s Convocation. Worked with the admissions office to make a hilarious promotional video for the school—“Ellen’s Favorite Things”; was hired as a Student Ambassador, to begin work the next year. Discovered the Norton gardens during Azalea Week (the few fleeting days when the entire property is covered in pink and white blooms). Went to the World Peace Summit in Chicago (during Prep Week—#priorities) with four other students; met Nobel winners, including Jody Williams and Chaeli Mycroft (and her cool mom). Received an invitation to the Honors Convocation but had no idea what award I was to receive; as I sat in the pews, I scoffed at/tweeted about the absurdity of the leadership award designated for females only—“how sexist”—and then, humbled, received said award (truly an honor).

Was rescued by a beautiful chocolate lab-pit mix, whom I named River; fell in love with her. Adventured in NYC with my best friend Shea and then flew to Berlin to take a month-long German-language course. Met my German nephew, Leopold; fell in love with him. Fell in love with Berlin (my city). Learned some German, learned some things about myself.

Selfie with my darling dog, River

Sophomore year:
Moved into a house off-campus. Found a love for cooking, for feeding folks. Started anti-protesting (sharing pro-choice messages and refreshments) outside the Hope Clinic. Became the Arts & Entertainment editor for the school paper, The Conglomerate. Strived every day to be the Best Student Ambassador Ever, enthused about giving campus tours, going above-and-beyond to recruit students, even making and studying Centenary-history/-facts flashcards (I know). Volunteer tutored a first-grader. Babysat some more. Convinced friends to attend an Invisible Children event (global summit + march + party) in Washington DC; nine of us in a van drove twenty hours there and back within the course of one weekend (the best weekend of my life).

Spent the first week of the year (and the first week of the semester) in Kenya and Tanzania on photo safari with my dad. Returned to campus for wonderful classes, including “Creative Writing: The Craft of Poetry” with Dr. Havird, one of the best people I’ve ever known; wrote an ekphrasis that the Louisiana Poet Laureate deemed worthy of an honorable mention; realized that I’m actually not half-bad at this whole “poetry” thing. Spent a long weekend in Chicago with Shea; cried the whole way home because I missed her already and was just so lonely at school. Learned that chaplain Betsy Eaves, a personal hero of mine, was being forced to leave Centenary; cried and yelled and then spent an entire day (skipped class; my professors understood) crafting an op-ed that created beautiful uproar and provoked an upper-level administrator to write me a very unprofessional email (my faculty proceeded to shame him for said email, and the administrator later half-heartedly apologized). Raised hell on campus by helping to orchestrate an anti-administration, pro-faculty/-staff/-students demonstration (all day, in the cold wind and rain).

Took intensive beginner French during the Maymester. Got a call one night, alerting me that my family had been in a car crash and my twelve-year-old brother was severely injured and had to be airlifted to a nearby children’s hospital; held his hand while he suffered through excruciating pain (first physical; then emotional, when he realized he’d be in a full back-brace for three months). Met Mick Fleetwood at a Fleetwood Mac Concert. Met Susan Orlean at the Mayborn Writers’ Conference. Went paragliding. Went to the 2013 Fourth Estate Summit in Los Angeles; while there, I got tattooed again, pledged to raise $5,000, witnessed amazing speeches (including Samantha Power’s first speech as ambassador), and made lifelong friends. Spent the week after the conference exploring San Francisco with brand-new friend Stephanie Vern.

Giggling before the demonstration and the rain

Junior year:
Returned to school as the editor-in-chief of the paper; produced a beautiful and controversial paper thanks to a young and dedicated staff. Decided to fundraise for IC through hard work—through on-campus jobs, off-campus jobs, babysitting; my days were long. Lost my friend Maggie to a car accident; was heartbroken, devastated, and determined to honor her with my life. Grieved while I worked; somehow managed to raise (thanks mostly to an incredibly supportive community) over $20,000; dyed my hair pink in exchange for the donation that pushed my total over $20k. Invisible Children gifted me a trip to Uganda, to take place the following summer, so that I could see the programs I’d worked to fund.

Became a substitute teacher; went to class Monday through Thursday and subbed on Fridays. Badly sprained my ankle; was on crutches for weeks. Had a beautiful t-shirt made to honor Maggie; sold them and raised over $4,000 for a scholarship fund in her name. Received some really bad news that threw me (and my mental health) for a serious loop; grasped for stability, peace. Finished out my term as editor-in-chief. Quit all of my jobs. Babysat and coached soccer every chance I got; time with kids supplied my oxygen. For the first time ever, just tried to pass my classes (no energy for perfectionism). Lobbied my representatives on behalf of Invisible Children. Helped host a “Last Lectures” series for the many faculty members who were leaving Centenary due to the growing corruption of the administration; it was one of the most beautiful events I’ve ever attended, let alone organized.

Went on May Module to Greece with Dr. Havird; roomed with two of the coolest women I’ve ever met and wished the entire trip that I’d met them years earlier. After two weeks, flew from Athens to Tel Aviv, where I met my grandfather; traveled all over Israel and after ten days left my heart in the Dead Sea. Spent a few days at home and then met new friend Emily Ip in San Diego, where we explored, ate ice cream, and hung out with friends Meg Fagundes, Jake Harris, and Katie Waters. Flew from SD to Uganda with fifteen incredible women, ages 17 to 40+. Lauren Manning, IC’s ex-pat stationed in Gulu, traveled with us all over the country, acting as an incredible host/guide and becoming one with the group (I miss all sixteen of them). Rafted and bungee jumped over the Nile (the latter thanks to Jaclyn Licht, who volunteered to jump with me after I had a full-fledged, horribly humbling meltdown). Flew home, took a mind-numbing summer class in Texarkana, and then headed back to La Jolla, where I attended the Fourth Estate Retreat, an intimate gathering of activists; we swam in the ocean fully-clothed, met with some of our heroes (looking at you, Shannon Sedgwick Davis and Bob Goff), laughed, cried, brainstormed, and made more lifelong friends (at an IC event? Imagine that). Went home, slept a little, and then went on a cruise with the family: enjoyed the beauty of Honduras, swam with sharks and rays in Belize, and danced in the streets in Cozumel.

At IC's Gulu office with a group of awe-inspiring women

Senior semester:
Started my final semester—classes, babysitting, applying to graduate schools for elementary education. Commissioned another beautiful t-shirt to fundraise for the Maggie Minter Scholarship Fund and organized an event to commemorate the first full year without her; raised a couple thousand dollars. Learned the very next day that a young Fourth Estate friend, Annika, had died by way of suicide; mourned, sent her family a letter, held virtual hands with our mutual friends who are scattered all over the world. Checked out for Fall Break a day early, flying to visit Shea, who is studying this semester in London; bad weather and incompetent employees almost made me miss my flight (I boohoo-cried in Shreveport Regional), but thanks to my brilliant mom and the alignment of the stars, I made it to London on-time. Spent two days there and then flew to Berlin, where I was reunited with my exchange sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and new niece. My five-day European excursion was everything I needed. Flew home and was back on the grind, trying desperately just to finish school. Found out that a long-term substitute position would be opening up at St. James Day School, my “alma mater” of a primary school; the headmistress couldn’t offer me the job, she said, but had “something else in mind”—that vague email arrived on a Monday. The following Friday, I was offered my dream job—a full-time position as the school-wide computer technology teacher. Quit applying to graduate programs; began preparing for my first day of work on January 5th. Tried to stay focused on school until the final day. Was writing a paper in the library when, right outside the window, an armed mentally ill man was shot and killed by DPS; I watched them try and fail to resuscitate.

At the Festival of Lights with sister Julia, niece Elly, and best friend Shea

Tomorrow is the first day of my final Prep Week. In twelve days, I’ll no longer be a college student. Then I’ll have sixteen days to move home, rest, and prepare before I start my first Real Grownup Job. I’m a little in denial and a lot excited. I can and can’t believe that in twelve days, this act will conclude. These three-and-a-half years have been incredible (so much travel, activism, wise mentors, friends all over the world) and really, really, really hard (death, trauma, loneliness). It’s not like I made a ton of friends here in Shreveport or at Centenary, but I will miss with my whole heart the few friends I did make, my professors, and the kids I babysit—and I’ll miss Shreveport itself. It’s only an hour away (thank you, newly-completed I-49), and I know I’ll be back to visit, yada yada—but still. It’s weird. There’s so much I want to leave—and there is so much awaiting me in Texarkana—but the few things/people I love in Shreveport, I really love.

I don’t have any profound conclusive words (which is fine, because nobody is going to actually read all 2,000ish words of this bad boy blog post), but I will be in the next few days writing a post about my favorite things about Shreveport/Centenary—a sort of guide for freshman, etc. It will be way shorter and more relevant to, like, people other than myself.

P.S. Excuse any errors/bad writing/whatever. I am not about to edit this honking thing; I have schoolwork to do.
P.P.S. I totally missed some stuff; forgive me.

After Thanksgiving Break, I am back in Shreveport, at a home that in three short weeks will no longer be mine; stumbling through an assignment that’s due tomorrow for a class that in three short weeks will be over; thinking about 35-year-old Charles Marcus McCauley, who is ten short days physically gone, who was surely much longer mentally gone, who was killed on the campus of what will in three short weeks be my alma mater.

St. James Day School caters to students through the sixth grade. The night after my sixth-grade graduation, I lay in bed and cried: I knew that something great was over. (I am not good at great endings.)

Now I know that there was no great ending—that it was instead an illusion, a hiatus; that a short eight-and-a-half years later, I would be back, though as a teacher (a student by another name).

Having somehow known this, I still would’ve cried: transitions demand to be acknowledged appropriately.

In three short weeks, my life as a Centenary student will be over. I am both elated and devastated by this reality. I am reminded, though, that nothing is over until everything is over—and even that is up for discussion.

I won’t deny myself appropriate acknowledgement of this transition—words, maybe tears—but I will not mourn for anything but Mr. McCauley, whose life I watched end from a desk at which I was for the last time slaving away over a term paper.

A few weeks ago, someone close to me tried to deny me my feelings because of my age. As a child, I was emotionally assaulted for years. But when, as a twenty-year-old woman, I owned that hurt, the hurt I felt for years and still feel, I was told that I was being ridiculous: “You’re an adult now,” I was told.

As if age makes me a completely different person.

When I was fundraising for Invisible Children last semester, I was asked why the LRA cause was so important to me. I had to think about it; why does this cause, of all the causes in the world, hold my heart so firmly? One reason, I realized, is because I believe that every human being has the right to a childhood. The thought of Joseph Kony stealing childhoods all over central Africa broke/breaks my heart.

I can’t overstate the value I put on childhood. There are pure, simple reasons I fight for it: it’s fun, happy, creative, innocent. There are more complex reasons, also: childhood is the beginning of life, and it plays a huge role on the middle and end of life. A family I babysit for displays an awesome sign in their home that reads, “Babies are an awesome way to start people.” It’s true: childhood is maybe the most beautiful part of human life; it’s also, perhaps, the most significant.

But here’s the thing: our culture tends to differentiate between children and adults as if they’re of different species, as if human growth and development is a metamorphosis of sorts. Children aren’t larvae; adults aren’t butterflies. We don’t grow out of childhood; we grow through it. I began my life on March 3rd, 1994, as Ellen Elizabeth Orr. Twenty years later, I am still the exact same person. My person has not changed or metamorphosed. I have grown, but I am still me. And no matter how many years pass, my experiences and emotions will always be wholly mine.

We forget that we used to rely entirely on others. We forget that, when we were born, people celebrated. We forget that we’ve been loved since Day One. 

Sierra DeMulder, in this gorgeous spoken-word poem, reminds us that we used to sleep in the arms of strangers. She says in that one line everything I’ve written in this impromptu blog post. (What an editor; what a poet.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV-gqLaipW4

(This blog post starts with a sub-plot recap from “Law & Order: SVU,” so you know it’s going to be good.)

In Season 15 (the one on-air currently) of “SVU,” Detective Olivia Benson incurs severe trauma at the hands of a perpetrator. She starts seeing a therapist to deal with it. This isn’t the first time in the series she’s seen a therapist, but despite that, she has trouble making herself go to sessions. She quickly gets back into the swing of things, though, and sees/feels the progress she’s making. Not long after, she sees that two of her fellow detectives are struggling with their own issues, but they’re not seeing counselors: one is going to “Anonymous” meetings, and the other is speaking to his pastor. She urges them to consider seeing a counselor, but they both blow her off, insisting that therapy wouldn’t “work” for them, or that they don’t “need to pay someone to listen to” them.

 

Personally, I love shrinks. I do! I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from seeing a licensed professional counselor at least once in his/her life. I myself have been in therapy for the last six or so years, on and off (more on than off, and I shouldn’t have ever been off, really). And I’ve experienced the same backlash Olivia Benson received: “I’m glad it works for you, but therapy doesn’t/wouldn’t work for me”—as if they’re so special that proven-effective methods work on the rest of the world but not them. Besides demonstrating serious egotism, this excuse also assumes that there’s one type of counseling. To me, saying you don’t like therapy (or that therapy doesn’t/wouldn’t work for you) is like saying you don’t like cookies when you’ve only ever tasted ginger snaps. Maybe ginger isn’t your thing, but Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip? I’ll pass you the tray.

 

The first counselor I ever saw was my high school’s counselor, who had one of the toughest jobs and was gracious and graceful in doing it. In the few brief times I talked to her, she demonstrated for me a high standard: I quickly knew what good professional help looked like, sounded like, and felt like. I have had three incredible counselors since. The first ended up leaving her practice for various reasons, but even so, she corresponded with me via email until I got set up with someone new. The second one I still keep in touch with—she is a bit older and has an old Nokia phone (with actual buttons!), and yet she texts me to check up on me, even though it’s obviously not her preferred method of communication, because she knows I’m more likely to text back than I am to answer the phone. The only reason I had to find a third therapist is because I left home to go to college, so I needed someone here in Shreveport. And he is just as wise and wonderful as the others.

 

That’s not to say I’ve only dealt with fabulous mental health professionals. When they sent me to stay at Brentwood in high school, I had to sit through group sessions with this therapist who obviously disregarded everything I had to say because of my background. And another time, I “tried” a counselor in Texarkana who told my parents that self-injury was nothing but a high school social fad—a way to rebel, sort of like how kids drink alcohol or smoke pot (don’t even get me started). So I get it: some counselors suck (Can I get a #duh?).

 

But the benefits of seeing and talking to and listening to good, smart, wise counselors outweigh the injuries of the bad ones a million to one. Therapy with a trained professional (with whom you “fit”) is an invaluable experience. Quickly, here are my top three reasons why:

 

1)   They know what they’re doing. They’ve spent years learning and figuring this stuff out. They know things about psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and more, and you could stand to learn how these things are relevant to your life, and to the lives of people around you. Besides that, if you go in with a problem, chances are they know how to help. They’ve been educated and trained to do it.

2)   It’s proactive. Most people go to counselors after something bad has happened (myself included), which makes sense. But think about all the additional bad things that have been prevented by good therapy. And imagine what tragedies could be prevented if we stopped waiting until last straws broke. It’s the reason we (are supposed to) get check-ups with our MDs—because we want to stay physically healthy instead of regaining health after illness. Therapy can and does function in that way as well.

3)   Good, smart, wise counselors are, at the end of the day, good, smart, wise people—and any chance you get to talk to good, smart, wise people you should take. I may go into my counselor’s office with a specific problem on my mind, and when I leave, I may or may not have a solid solution, depending on the problem. But I don’t ever leave a session without a new piece of wisdom in my back pocket.

 

If you are truly benefiting from your AA meetings or chats with your pastor, or if you’re currently excelling out in the world by yourself, that’s great! But if not, consider making the courageous choice of seeing an LPC. It’s not easy: after I came back from Christmas break, I knew I should make an appointment, but I put it off for weeks—because it’s easier to just go through the motions of day-to-day life, self-medicating (with food, media, alcohol, whatever). But it’s healthiest, smartest, and bravest to talk to a professional. If you need help finding one and you’re a student, I highly recommend contacting your school’s counseling services office (Centenary students, I can personally vouch that they’ll give you an awesome list of local professionals and help you figure out who on the list would be best for you). You could also ask your regular doctor for recommendations.

 

I mean, at the end of the day, nobody wants to be stubborn Amanda or know-it-all Amaro; we all wanna be brave, fierce, smart-as-a-whip Olivia Benson. Follow her lead: get help if you need it.

 

*steps off soapbox*

Once, I was interviewing a pageant director for a human interest piece. She kept telling me I should enter a pageant, and I kept politely declining, but she kept pushing, so finally I told her I thought the swimwear/fitnesswear portions were objectifying and ridiculous. “Oh! Those are so you can show the judges how physically fit you are! Pageant queens have to be in very good shape because they travel so much.”

. . . 

I thought that was BS then, and I think it’s BS now: you can’t tell how fit a person is based on the way she looks in a bikini or a sports bra. I will give her a little credit, though: you do have to be in good shape if you want to travel—or at least if you want to travel well.

Traveling is in the cards for me this year: this summer I’ll be spending two weeks in Greece on a school trip, ten or so days in Israel with my grandpa, and nine days in Uganda with Invisible Children. And I’m hoping/planning for many weekend excursions throughout the year.

But for me, traveling well means walking the cities, rafting the waters, eating good foods, being entirely uninhibited, and learning my surroundings before the days begin—by going on morning runs.

I stay in decent shape all the time, so walking, rafting, and the like are always doable for me. But eating well and living freely? Those are harder for me, as I have a historically abusive relationship with food, and I’ve always (since I can remember) struggled with self-image and all that gross emotional doubt stuff that means worrying about how fat my thighs look instead of fully realizing my surroundings. 

And then morning runs? Ha! I am so out of shape right now that a few miles is a HUGE deal, a real energy- and time-drainer, and it’s just zero fun.

So here’s the plan: for the next 16 weeks, I’m going to focus on my health. I’m going to run, and I’m going to build muscle, and I’m going to eat lots of good food. And when I board my first international flight of the year (to Greece), the only baggage I’ll have will be the kind that you check (although, let’s be real: good packers only carry on) and will include running shoes.

 

In 2014, I’m going to eat, sleep, learn, read, write, laugh, and run in four different countries and at least five different states. Let’s. Go.

This has been one of the hardest semesters of my life. Also one of the most rewarding. Let me explain.

I have been up to my eyeballs in coursework, most of it non-English coursework. As new editor-in-chief, I’ve revived the school newspaper and led my staff to produce what’s been said is the best paper the college has had in recent history. I’ve been a student ambassador, always trying to recruit potential students. And I’ve worked really, really, really hard to fundraise for Invisible Children’s latest campaign, #zeroLRA: I’ve tutored (both with Centenary and a private agency), babysat (for numerous families in Shreveport), held raffles, and sold cookies, all in exchange for donations. And, as of now—December 3rd, 2013, 6:00pm CST—I’ve raised $12,257 (245% of my original goal), which makes me the sixth top fundraiser worldwide.

I’ve raised this money for so many different reasons, the first of them being that I truly believe in the work that’s being done. The money funds on-the-ground programs that have been proven effective in rescuing and rehabilitating child soldiers and child sex slaves in central Africa and then reuniting them with their families. I believe so much in the cause. Children are my life, my passion, and I long for a world in which all children are free to be just that—children. That’s why I babysit, tutor, aspire to be a teacher, and, yes, fundraise for Invisible Children’s life-saving programs.

But that passion alone hasn’t fueled me to raise over $12k (and counting) in less than five months. I have also been motivated constantly by Invisible Children staff members as well as fellow attendees of the 2013 Fourth Estate Summit, an IC leadership conference I attended back in August. The Fourth Estate is a group of individuals who believe in the interconnectedness of this world and of justice and of liberty. We believe that a threat to any person’s liberty is a threat to every person’s liberty. And we believe that, as citizens of the world, we all belong to each other. And the Fourth Estate members I know have really exemplified that to me this year.

Even before the Summit, early this summer, 4E members kept me afloat. We had all joined a Facebook group to get acquainted before the event. And when, in May, my whole family (except for me) was hit by a texting driver and my little brother was airlifted to the nearest children’s hospital with severe spinal injuries, I turned to that group. And y’all, they showed up. They were thinking about us, praying for us, sending us good vibes, messaging me to ask for updates and to offer kind words. All during his recovery, they had me and my family on their minds and hearts.

And then, when my friend Maggie passed away suddenly in September, so many of them saw my posts on social media or saw my blog, and they offered condolences freely. I received messages with links to comforting poems. I received text messages asking if I was okay. I received virtual hugs out the wazoo. These people knew what I was dealing with, and they were there to share my burden. I cried for days on end, but these people helped me pull myself together when most everyone else in my life was too affected by the tragedy to lend the support I needed. And even now, I’m working on a fundraiser for the Maggie Minter Scholarship Fund, and a 4E friend is helping with the design work. Because she cares about me, and because she knows I’d do the same for her.

I know this is ramble-y; I just can’t help it. Here’s what I’m trying to say: I live my life for children. I am passionate about childhood, education, and empowerment, and these values are the core of IC. And just as I support IC, IC supports me. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without Invisible Children and the Fourth Estate this semester. #zeroLRA has been my life for the last 20-something weeks. This campaign—and this organization and these people—have my heart and soul.

Now, the relevance: yesterday, a clock started—a clock that will run for two weeks (until Monday, December 16th). Whoever has raised the most money during this timeframe will win a trip to Uganda with Invisible Children’s management team to see the programs  we’ve been funding on-the-ground. As of right now, I am in the lead, with a little over $6,000.

Whoever wins this trip will be deserving and worthy. I sure would love for it to be me, but I will be pleased regardless; I know I’ll get to Uganda someday, and I don’t need to see the efforts with my own eyes to know that they’re worthy and working. Still, this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t wishing and hoping for “victory.” :)

SO, if you would like to see me go to Uganda to witness firsthand what I’ve been working for all semester (and, on-and-off, for the last six years of my life), you can donate to my fundraising page here.

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