Alternative Stories #6: First experiences

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, International Studies sophomore and current site leader Niyati Rangnekar shares her story.

10653408_10205338797213402_6022637147600828682_nI discovered Alternative Spring Break (ASB) through my learning community, the University’s Health Sciences Scholars Program, and became interested in the program because of its emphasis on service learning – something I felt that I was missing in my first semester of college. In high school, I was very involved in tutoring at the Boys & Girls Club, so I was looking forward to a service-learning trip that would push me out of my comfort zone and into a new, unfamiliar environment that I knew would transform my perspectives. Additionally, the idea of sharing an experience with a group of people who would eventually become close to me sounded incredible, especially because I was a freshman still in the stage of finding close friends.

As a participant my freshman year, I went to Peaceable Kingdom Retreat (PKRC) in Killeen, TX, where I fell in love with the mission and the children that came to the center. PKRC is an 120-acre retreat center that holds educational and outdoor activities for all children – and the inclusivity of PKRC is what really drew me in. Though PKRC hosts a wide variety of activities, every activity has equipment that is adaptable based on each child’s needs. No matter the ability of the child, they are able to participate in every activity offered at the retreat. PKRC thus creates an environment where children are given the opportunity to truly express themselves, while they may not be able to elsewhere. What I most admire about PKRC is the environment it has created where there is really no such thing as a “disability” and everyone is given the opportunity to accomplish anything.

Furthermore, this was my first time volunteering so closely with such an organization. I enjoyed forming relationships with the children who came to the camp with so much joy at being able to have fun just as their able-bodied friends were able to. PKRC transformed my experience into one of just stepping outside of my comfort zone to one in which I was able to witness the empowerment of young children.

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PKRC really changed my life, and I am so grateful for the experience I had over spring break. The extreme resilience and perseverance of the children I worked with over spring break really inspired me, and I found myself re-evaluating my life passions and goals to revolve around working with children. Before ASB, I had not previously worked with children who had different abilities, and what I experienced at PKRC made me realize how much joy I feel just hanging out with the kids at PKRC who truly represent the happiness and freedom of childhood, regardless of their abilities. It is the overwhelming sense of purpose that I felt after such a rewarding experience that made my experience with ASB so special.

With that being said, I am so grateful to return to PKRC as a site leader. With a new group of participants, I am looking forward to a different experience that I believe will be more rewarding than the first!

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

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