Voices of ASB#3: How One Week Became a Whole Summer

Every week, members and partners of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) community will share their stories through Voices of ASB, a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB. This week, we hear from site leader Katie Donnellon, a junior majoring in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. 

I first participated in ASB my freshman year with my learning community, HSSP. Our trip was focused on health and disabilities, and we went the Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children in Killeen, Texas. Peaceable Kingdom (PK) is a camp that focuses on providing inclusive experiences for children of all abilities. The five days that we spent at PK are some of the most memorable of my freshman year. I spent one afternoon with pre-schoolers, helping them climb to the top of a small rock wall and rewarding them with superpowers when they reached the top. This was my first taste of the magic PK creates. While some of the kids raced up the play structure, others were challenged by the obstacle, but in the end every kid walked away feeling like they had accomplished something that they may not have thought they could do before. While the young pre-schoolers saw it as just another day on the play structure, I could see them learning to be more confident, and, even at their young age, learning to be supportive of one another. When some kids struggled, their friends spoke words of encouragement, and that feeling of camaraderie helped each one of them to push their own limits.

asblog katieWhile my ASB experience became on of the most memorable things from my first year at Michigan, it didn’t come easily. I came into my freshmen year very reserved and the idea of spending a week, traveling to a new place with people I didn’t know, verged on overwhelming; however, after talking to the site leader, I decided to take the opportunity to challenge myself to step out of the introverted bubble I had become far too comfortable in. For me, every step of the process was a challenge starting with the interview, but even when I second guessed myself on  my decision to apply, I found myself pushing through. Once we were Texas bound, I began to feel more comfortable and, instead of feeling nervous before our group’s nightly reflections, I started to look forward to them. I enjoyed hearing the stories of the day, the kids that our group was meeting, and even telling them about my day. I made it through the week and sitting in the camp’s theatre, watching a slideshow of the week, I felt that I had accomplished something a few months before I never thought possible. Throughout the week I had met some of the most supportive people who went on to become part of my family here at U of M, all while learning about how places like PK can offer kids the opportunity to challenge themselves, realize what they are capable of, and build supportive relationships with their peers. PK is an equalizer for kids of all sorts of abilities to come together and realize the differences we often fear are something that can bring us together.
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One afternoon, the camp director, Laura, mentioned that PK hires college students for their summer staff. The conversation had little effect on me at the time. I had already planned to take summer classes, and if the thought of coming to Texas for a week was overwhelming, the idea of living in Texas for the summer was pretty much out of the question. Then we came back to Ann Arbor, and my time at PK lingered in my head, after a lot of self reflection I realized that maybe my story with PK wasn’t quite over. For the past two summers I have been blessed with the opportunity to find a second home in Peaceable Kingdom, the first place to give me a taste of the person I hadn’t realized I was meant to become. Like the kiddos on the play structure over spring break, I spent the summers challenging myself, and growing each time I did. I have also gotten to meet amazing campers who are proof that what we may call “disabilities” aren’t inabilities at all.

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This year I have decided to be a site leader because I have grown so much as a result of my ASB experience my freshman year, and I
wanted the chance to be a part of that journey for other students. My trip this year is focused on food justice issues, where we will be travelling to New York City to work with an organization called God’s Love, We Deliver. God’s Love prepares healthy meals for people with critical illnesses who are otherwise unable to access nutritious foods. Over the past few months, I have learned an immense amount about the food industry, and food access in the United States not just from our education, but also from that participants and my co-site leader, and I know that the most learning is yet to come as we prepare to travel to New York in just a couple of months!


Voices of ASB #2: Samaritan House: A Place for Realization

Every week, members and partners of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) community will share their stories through Voices of ASB, a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB. This week, we hear from site leader Juliet Wu, a sophomore majoring in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience and minoring in Spanish. 

My freshman year, I applied to Alternative Spring Break because a lot of my peers in my learning community were talking about it.  I applied to the HIV/AIDS trip because as a student that was focused on being pre-med, I thought this was a great way to explore such a medically related topic.  I was aware of all of the stigma that was attached to HIV/AIDS, but I never knew how much I would learn about myself and social justice in just a weeklong experience.  


Our group traveled to Samaritan House in Fort Worth, Texas.  Samaritan House provides housing for people who are afflicted with HIV or AIDS and are chronically homeless. They also provide meals, shelter, counseling and a close-knit community.  I went into the trip thinking that the entire week would consist of us helping the organization through manual work such as organizing things or painting walls.  We did do these things, however none of these activities were as rewarding as interacting with the residents and hearing their stories. Meeting and interacting with these people was a service within itself. There are a lot of things that you hear about or learn about, but nothing affects you as much as hearing stories directly from the people themselves.  Hearing people’s stories put faces to stories I had heard about struggles with through discrimination and rejection because of HIV/AIDS. Some of the residents also shared with us the different ways that they were empowering themselves whether it was going back to school or helping others. This empowerment was very inspiring to me and it was so heartwarming that a place like Samaritan House could help them regain control of their own lives. The interactions I had at Samaritan House impacted me more than I could have imagined.  I learned that service-learning is not simply about helping others, but connecting with people and learning lessons that will affect you for the rest of the life. As a group, we may not have made a big impact on them through a week, but this experience definitely had a huge impact on us.Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 1.35.36 PM

The reflections that my site leaders led every night also contributed greatly to my personal growth.  Everyone lives busy
lives, and it is really hard to take a step back and make tim
e to discuss important social justice topics.  ASB gave me the opportunity to see things in a different light and learn through other points of view. I learned that every person has their own unique, complicated story and a deeper side to them.  I learned a lot from each reflection, but one reflection stood out the most.  After a day of hearing stories, we sat down to discuss what we had experienced that day. As we spoke about the discrimination and the huge inequities that the residents experienced, I started getting angrier and angrier.  I was angry at the level of discrimination these people faced, I was appalled at the lack of resources there were for homeless people, and I was angry at the stigma that still surrounded HIV/AIDS and homelessness.  I was angry that just a few mistakes or bad situations could cause someone to end up so hurt, isolated and judged. But amidst all this anger, was a realization that maybe I could take this anger and utilize it to help people. After that reflection session, one of the participants on the trip pulled me aside.  He told me that he saw my passion in social justice issues, and thought that I should explore public health as a career.  I didn’t even know what public health was, but after speaking with him, I realized that it was something that I was extremely interested in and wanted to add to my path of becoming a doctor.  I have always been a person that likes to have plans for everything, so I had come into college with the solid plan that I was going to go to medical school straight out of undergrad.  This trip however, made me realize that I should be open to new experiences that could completely change my perspectives.  I realized that plans are good, but sometimes you need to be flexible and make room for new ideas in such an ever-changing life.Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 1.35.53 PM

This trip impacted me so much that I wanted to become a site leader to create a trip that could impact others the same way it impacted me.  As a site leader, I am still constantly learning new things about the complexity and intersectionality of social justice. I hope to employ the myriad of things I learned from ASB to help my own participants to promote their own learning.  And no matter how cliché this sounds, I hope that I can help my participants to have an experience just as life-changing as mine was.

Voices of ASB #1: Journey of Leadership and Active Participation

Every week, members and partners of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) community will share their stories through Voices of ASB, a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB. This week, we hear from Andrea Case, a senior majoring in Industrial Operations Engineering, and a Finance & Fundraising ASB Lead Team Member. 

At the end of my sophomore year, I applied for a position on the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Lead Team. After two impactful spring break trips, I wanted to challenge myself and help the organization that had given so much to me. To my surprise, I was accepted as part of the Finance and Fundraising Team (F&F).

My work on F&F included creating and maintaining the budget, as well as providing resources for site leaders for fundraising. In all the work that I did, my goal was to ensure that our program was sustainable and accessible to all UM students. Although my participation in the organization was meaningful in the overall big picture, it was easy to get disconnected from the organization by focusing on the logistics. One of the things I valued as a participant was the weekly educational aspects of ASB, where once a week I would get together with my site and learn about the social justice topic and engage in reflections. Instead, my weekly meetings consisted of planning and numbers.


In order to re-immerse myself in the ASB program I had fallen in love with, I decided last minute to apply for a general trip and was placed on a rural poverty trip. I spent spring break in Harlan, KY at Cranks Creek Survival Center.

Cranks Creek Survival Center is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to residents in Harlan County. “A helping hand, not a handout” is the mission of Cranks Creek Survival Center. Over the week, my group worked together to help build a homeless shelter in Bobby Simpson’s, the founder of the center, backyard. A majority of our group had never picked up a hammer before, but we learned. With each strike of the hammer, each piece of insulation that was installed, I could see progress. The small shelter in the backyard was slowly transforming.

The highlight of my trip was when our contact spent the day driving with us around the county to visit some of the projects the center had done in the past, in order to give us an idea of what we would be doing. It was heartwarming to hear the families talk so highly of the volunteers at Cranks Creek and to see the impact on each of these projects. It was in this moment that I realized why I continue to be involved in ASB. I value being part of a community of activists. I value being part of a community that strives to promote equity and empower individuals. As my time at Michigan comes to an end, I am thankful for my  involvement with Alternative Spring Break. It is hard to find the words to describe the experiences of my past three trips. Service learning involves the desire to learn and change just as much as it involves the desire to serve. Here’s to new friends, new perspectives, new communities, and a desire to continue my role towards being an active citizen and promoting social change.

Alternative Stories #16: Why I value community partnerships

Every week, members and partners of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) community will share their Alternative Stories, a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB. This week, we hear from Geena Kerr, a junior majoring in Movement Science and Women’s Studies, and a Site Development ASB Lead Team member. 

IMG_2503The University of Michigan’s Alternative Spring Break program has provided me not only a week-long exploration of service learning, but also a lifelong journey of active citizenship and social justice education. The program has exposed me to social justice issues and individual perspectives that have challenged my personal thoughts and opinions. The growth I have experienced through ASB is unparalleled.

My ASB story began as a participant my freshman year on the Health Sciences Scholars collaboration trip to Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children in Killeen, TX. Under the Health and Disability topic group, this trip not only introduced me to amazing children, passionate camp staff and lifelong friends, but also to the importance of language and the impact it can have on individuals and society. After that transformational week, I knew I wanted to continue to be part of ASB. The following year, I was a site leader for the LGBTQ Awareness trip to the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit. This trip was very different from my first, but no less transformational. Language, especially pronoun use, was central to many of our reflections, and helped me to continue my understanding of the consequences of what I say and how I say it. Having the opportunity to work with a community so close to Ann Arbor was amazing. The change in perceptions of Detroit that I saw in my co-site leader, our participants, and myself speaks to the importance of the hands-on service, learning, and reflection that ASB prides itself on.

7578_10200943232806903_1229157710_n (1)This past year, I took on a very different role in the ASB community. I joined Site Development on the Leadership Team and have been able to grow my critical thinking and communication skills. As a member of Site Development, I work with my team to create and cultivate meaningful partnerships with organizations around the country that align with our mission and provide opportunities for both service and learning. ASB’s community partners are at the core of our program and the work and education they allow us to take part in is what makes the week-long trips such amazing experiences. While I may not be working with the community partners on location, I have had the opportunity to learn from and work with the organizations in a different way. I have had the chance to communicate with organizations that have been with ASB from the very beginning, like Cranks Creek Survival Center in Harlan, KY, which has taught me the importance of our continued partnerships. I have worked to continue partnerships that are newer to our program, like Camp for All in Burton, TX, who had anticipated my call and genuinely looked forward to this year’s group of students. This year, we were also able to expand our program and begin partnerships with new communities like Green Light New Orleans in Louisiana, which I hope can be continued in the future. Our community partners provide our trips with more than we could ever give back, and for that I am grateful.

Alternative Spring Break has challenged me to think about what it means to be a socially just person.  It has provided me with the knowledge, resources, and confidence to grow and make and advocate for change.

To share your Alternative Spring Break story, e-mail the ASB Public Relations Team at ASBSurPRise@umich.edu.