Alternative Stories #8: Putting the pieces together

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. Business junior and MCSP site-leader Zach Shaw shares his story this week.

zach2Though the task seems complicated at first glance, putting together a puzzle is actually rather simple. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are or what your background is; all you need is motivation, patience and, of course, the pieces.

But in life’s puzzles, the pieces aren’t immediately available. That’s what I’ve struggled with most in my service so far at the University. Whether I was traveling the country with ASB or partnering with communities here in Ann Arbor, I’ve worked with some of the most motivated and patient people around. Yet, I’ve still struggled to grasp the greater context of these issues, and often came and went without much to take away from the experience. I wasn’t putting the pieces together. In many cases, I didn’t even have the pieces.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise then, when my co-site leader Barrett and I were selected to lead a rural poverty-based ASB trip this year. We both had a decent working knowledge of most social issues, but had never been exposed to rural poverty for more than a pit stop on a road trip. This meant that we had to really dig deep to understand the complexities of the site to which we were going.

What we found is that the figurative pieces are everywhere, and we just needed to apply our mozachtivation and patience toward finding them: There are the educational movies and other resources we’ll be sharing with the rest of East Quad at our upcoming pre-break engagement event, as well as professors — even those whose classes we’d had — who dedicate their time and research to the topic of rural poverty. Even our own participants made the connections between academic studies such as medicine, business and education and how they pertain to the roots and causes of rural poverty.

There’s still plenty to learn, but I can already feel a heightened connection to the service we’ll be doing. Each social issue comes with its own complications and struggles, and very rarely in life will all the pieces be there right away. But by reaching out through service, education, or even just taking the time to listen to people’s stories, the bigger picture becomes clearer.

To share your Alternative Spring Break story, e-mail the ASB Public Relations Team at