By Julie Sparks, Rollins College Student
Sitting on top of a mountain surrounded by yellow and red leaves gives you a different perspective. Looking down at the trees, rivers, and buildings allows the mind to evaluate the importance of action and identity. The extraction of students from their homes and dorms to a place of support and changemaking gave me the opportunity to sit on the mountain and brainstorm my ability to create motion in the world. Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat gave me the chance not only to alter my perspective, but establish connections with like-minded people and grow my knowledge of communication and teamwork.
I did not know what to expect when I arrived in North Carolina and for the first twenty minutes of ice breakers, I was questioning my decision. However, the people I was surrounded with were more ambitious and motivated then I have ever experienced. It gave me a chance to see others as changemaking forces in our future world. The organizers of the retreat were experienced and driven. I learned about conferences, grants, networking, raising money, and planning ideas in the shadows of people who have successfully done it time and time again.
My favorite experience was listening to speeches from the Avalon Village Project. It was inspiring to know a woman with relatively no money could change her entire town for the better. These speakers showed possibility and enforced my belief that one person can change others’ lives for the better. Even from other students, all across the east coast, I heard the same issues I was seeing at home and ones I was passionate about. When I left the Ignite Retreat I knew that I’d keep these connections of students and professional changemakers for life. This is a small community, formed in a weekend, that I know will support any cause where I try to make a difference. That type of encouragement is often unheard of in a single campus or community, but I have members from across the U.S. to reach out to now.
I had a sense of social entrepreneurship before I attended this retreat–the typical volunteering and fundraising ideal. But this weekend really did change my perspective of seeing the world with more of a social entrepreneurship light. I learned to identify social and environmental issues, and then create steps to tackle the problem. In an exercise, we formed groups of six people we had never before met, and opened a bag with several items and a picture. That picture represented the problem and we had to create a solution with the items. Now, of course this required an extensive use of imagination but it was real world problem solving with real possibilities. We received climate change as our problem, and used our items to create an environmental education game for elementary schools to implement so future generations are environmentally conscious. I would have never come up with that solution just sitting in my dorm. I needed the atmosphere, ideas, and encouragement of changemaking to see myself as a problem solver. Now that I have begun this shift in my perspective, I can evaluate ideas and plans more critically. I can see the world as a place to make change.
Social entrepreneurship has an extensive impact both on the individual and the community. I encourage anyone who has the time in their schedule to apply for this opportunity. Especially if you are in the business or social entrepreneurship programs at Rollins. The new outlook and ability to meet new, like-minded people is outstanding. I learned about social entrepreneurship and myself on this retreat. In the future, I will continue to look for Sullivan Foundation events and ways to participate in changemaking.