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What a 3 Day Immersion in My City Taught Me

By Brianna Gavin

I, like many others in the city of Dayton, OH, hear constantly how gross and unsafe the actual city of Dayton is. I've been personally told that my choice to attend high school in Downtown Dayton and go to college very close by, is the "dumbest decision I've ever made because nothing good comes from a place like that."

I believed that too until I chose to go on REAL Dayton through the Campus Ministry Department at the University of Dayton.

I thought, at first, that I was going to be an expert on the sites of Dayton because I've been here for so long. That could not have been further from the truth. I left every single day with far more knowledge than what I had started with, and so much more than that. The City of Dayton and REAL Dayton itself taught me so many things about the city itself and myself as well. 

On the first day I was placed into a group of almost all complete strangers and one person from my high school that I didn't know very well at all. Needless to say, I was beyond scared about what I had gotten myself into. As the first night ended, though, I already felt close to my group members and knew off the bat that it was going to be an extremely life-changing experience.

As the weekend went on, my group went to a multitude of service sites ALL focused on making Dayton a better place and spreading the message of the greatness it already has to offer so many people. There were so many life changing moments in the program, but I think it's easiest to explain by quotes because words do often explain things best.

 "You can't grow without knowing what you're rooted in." The theme of REAL Dayton was Rooted In Branching Out and with that was the project of creating a tree in a sheet sign with our small groups. One of my small group members stated this quote and actually made me think a lot about what it meant to be a part of something bigger than myself.

When we were thinking about our neighborhoods we grew up in, I spent five minutes staring at a blank paper with tears in my eyes because I didn't know what to write. I don't know what I'm rooted in, and it didn't hit me until that moment. Not knowing your roots makes it almost impossible to grow.

"REAL Dayton gave me REAL friends." While on this trip, my roommate and I immersed ourselves fully in discovering other friendships, and we both found that with four international, amazing, loving friends. On the last night, shortly before we were scheduled to leave back to campus, one of them sat across from my roommate and I and stated the above quote.

Nothing could've prepared me for the love I felt in my heart during that one moment.

REAL Dayton taught me so much more than just things about Dayton. Sure, I did learn a lot, but I also had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and areas where I still need to grow. That's how I applied the theme of the trip (Rooted in Branching Out) to my life. I took the idea of the tree and realized that I was placed on that retreat to find out places where I need to grow.

Our teams were assigned to each draw trees with different things in each section of the tree.

In the roots we wrote things we individually felt that kept us rooted. I wrote "equality, solidarity, relationships". I felt somewhat half-done after I wrote this. I didn't feel rooted at all, in fact. In the trunk we wrote things that bind us together or things that've impacted us from the trip. I wrote "when one door closes another door opens". I've always known this quote, but hearing it at just the right time means so much more than usual.

In the leaves, we wrote things that we were going to do from now on, things that we were going to ground ourselves in and keep in mind throughout the initiatives in Dayton. The only word I remember writing is "hope" and that's because 99% of the time, I'm one of the most hopeless individuals in the world, but not on this day. There's something about being surrounded around good people that brings hope to your heart.

REAL Dayton gave me real friends. REAL Dayton gave me a real sense of community and hope. I will never be able to fully explain all of the ways this trip helped me, but hopefully with the work I do in the city, it will be obvious just how much those three days changed my life. 

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