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Fresh Tomatoes, Street Musicians, and Quantum Mechanics Come Together for an Anthropology Major

By Matt Germaine

Matt interned at the Atlanta Community Food Bank the summer before his senior year at The College of Wooster.  He is a 2015 graduate.  In combining his interests, values, and experiences at the ACFB and elsewhere, he has found a fulfilling, post-graduation home out west by serving with AmeriCorps NCCC.

As an anthropology student, the few chemistry courses I took during my four years at The College of Wooster proved to be quite challenging. For instance, while illustrating the Aufbau Principle in terms of electron orbitals came easily in class, it proved to be anything but on a written exam. Material aside, however, I also became frustrated with the occasional burden of working with a lab group. Why, I wondered at the time, did I have to put up with being shuffled into a random group of people in order to complete a task that I would have accomplished in half the time on my own? I answered my own question the summer following my successful completion of the class, soon after returning from my first gardening shift at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The value of teamwork, I realized, had nothing to do with the type of science going on in the lab; rather, it had everything to do with the chemistry between people working together to get things done.

Matt (Wooster 2015) is working in teams with other recent graduates for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

Matt (Wooster 2015) is working in teams with other recent graduates for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

In ambitiously committing to fight hunger by engaging, educating, and empowering the numerous populations it serves, the Atlanta Community Food Bank may appear to be a massive, single-handed siege on food insecurity in northern Georgia, but it is in fact a lone member of a much larger and like-minded lab group. During my two months as an intern with the Food Bank’s Community Gardens Initiative, I helped coordinate volunteers in gathering fresh produce from several community gardens across the metropolitan Atlanta area. In addition, I kept track of these yields on spreadsheets for the Food Bank’s chapter of the National Plant-A-Row-for-the-Hungry Campaign. After being washed, sorted, and packed at the end of every gardening shift, our harvests joined numerous additional perishable and nonperishable food donations from places like Wal-Mart, BJ’s, and other local community gardens to form a nourishing, year-long artery to 600 food pantries, senior centers, homeless shelters, and other partner agencies that directly interact with those who lack adequate food and nutrition.  With this in mind, the Food Bank is not alone in its mission, but rather exists as a bustling hub, endlessly pulsating with the power of diverse individuals united in the common effort of helping others help themselves.

Curious to see if a similar harmony existed in a relationship that catered to my passion for music, I returned to college for my senior year interested in discerning the role of buskers, or street musicians, in shaping notions of community in areas historically plagued by racial or social strife. Through The College of Wooster’s Independent Study program, I returned to Atlanta and interviewed a number of street musicians to gauge their relationships with the homeless individuals, police officers, pedestrians, and other buskers in a neighborhood situated between a more affluent and principally white part of Atlanta and a more destitute and principally black-populated area. While no social relationship is ever completely straightforward, I found that, for the most part, what may simply be a means of conveying emotion or garnering tips for street musicians in fact serves as a unifying experience between groups of people that may otherwise never interact and begin to understand one another in an informal environment. Like street performance, organizations that help others help themselves – such as the Food Bank – do much more than assist those in need; they utilize the work of many to form communities around common causes. In other words, shared experiences help to develop good chemistry. In today’s world, programs like these are socially and anthropologically imperative, especially in cities as diverse as Atlanta.

In the few months prior to my graduation from The College of Wooster, I earned a place in Class 22 of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), an organization that closely parallels the teamwork-oriented mindset I encountered at the Food Bank. Over the course of the next 10 months, I’ll serve with several other 18-24 year-olds to meet urgent community needs through projects that support environmental stewardship, energy conservation, infrastructure improvement, urban and rural development, and disaster relief across the American Southwest. The program is a manifestation of what my college and SHECP experiences have taught me – that communities are able to form in the unlikeliest of ways and that, when properly harnessed, tightly-knit communities are capable of catalyzing staggering amounts of positive change – and I am incredibly fortunate to have utilized my education and experiences from prior opportunities to arrive at the position in which I now stand.

Although part of me will always bask in the cathartic process of planning, developing, and completing a task like my Independent Study more or less on my own, my SHECP internship provided the lens I needed to appreciate the value of teamwork on a large scale, outside of an asphyxiating lab. Moreover, interning at the Food Bank and volunteering across its many branches allowed me to experience the benefits of applying extensive collaboration to a meaningful cause, such as eradicating food insecurity, engaging diverse communities, or alleviating poverty. It is my full intention to contribute to these vocations throughout the course of my personal and professional life, first through serving with AmeriCorps NCCC, then perhaps by pursuing opportunities with the StoryCorps program and the Corporation for National and Community Service. For now, though, I plan on taking it one step at a time. Fulfilling present goals before moving ever closer to the larger dreams ahead; that is, after all, the Aufbau Principle in action.


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