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.
While 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.
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.
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!