Alternative Stories #15: A community bond at God’s Love We Deliver

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. Organizational Studies junior and site leader Lejla Bajgoric shares her story this week. 

UntitledAt first I was hesitant. We’d be travelling all the way to New York City to perform some type of service work for a week. I wondered if I and the 10 other members on the trip would actually feel as though we were part of the community, fully embedded within it, functional units of it. The organization at which we would serve is itself unique and special to New York. New York, in general, was practically brand new to us all. But I guess that’s the magic of God’s Love We Deliver.

By our third day of performing prep duty in the kitchen, we had formed such a bond with16164069464_715ddb704d_o the crew that upon arriving for our shift on day four, we were surprised with breakfast: scrambled eggs, muffins and more, just for the Alternative Spring Breakers. God’s Love makes, prepares, packages and delivers thousands of meals a day to individuals with severe illnesses like HIV/AIDS; this surprise breakfast is just one account that summarized how at home we felt in a place so far away, while working for a nonprofit with a name and mission new to us all. The individuals working and regularly volunteering at God’s Love, like similar organizations, genuinely want to be there because they believe in the power of community building. This is an environment where no one is a stranger, and you take a genuine interest in anyone who comes in through the doors offering a helping hand, even us interesting kids from Michigan with the funny accents.

This type of community bond makes the service work that much more meaningful and the experience itself that much more memorable.

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

Apply NOW to be a 2015-2016 site leader!

Apply by Mar. 26 at 5 p.m. HERE.

ASBe a leader-apply now to be a (1)Alternative Spring Break depends completely on the hard work, ideas and energy of the students involved. If you care about community issues, are committed to student involvement in them and want to be a leader in providing positive community experiences for others, this is for you!

Successful ASB site leaders guide their teams in learning and reflection and effectively manage day-to-day tasks such as communication with site contacts and financial record-keeping. Their work begins in the fall and continues through the break. Site Leaders attend a mandatory retreat and regular meetings to help build leadership and facilitation skills

For more information, and to apply, go to: mjoin.umich.edu/?go=asbslider

Alternative Stories #14: Recognizing other realities

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 Nikole Koszarycz, a nursing student and ASB site leader.

nikoleI initially decided to apply for ASB during my freshman year because my learning community, the Health Sciences Scholars Program (HSSP), was sponsoring its own trip. Unfortunately, I was not given a spot. I was upset and a little hurt, since most of my closest friends were offered spaces on the trip, but despite this disappointment, I decided to apply to the greater pool of ASB trips. I chose Youth and Education for my site topic, and was placed on a trip to go to Chicago’s Jane A. Neil School, an elementary and middle school for children of all abilities.

I had chosen Youth and Ed because I was comfortable working with children, and because most of the volunteer programs I had been a part of in the past were centered on youth. With that, I never anticipated meeting a group of such open-minded, kind, and mature children as I met at Jane A. Neil. What was interesting about Neil was that it was a school in which children of all types of physical and mental abilities were integrated in the classroom together. I had never experienced a school with this type of program, and I was struck by the compassion and understanding that each child had for one another. They fought, joked around, and were curious like every other child I had ever come across, and instead of focusing on their disabilities, I began to realize that they were simply differently-abled. Although many of the children opened up about the difficulties they faced every day, they also opened up about their favorite activities, their best friends, as well as their dreams and ambitions. This gave me the perspective that all kids are simply kids, in their innocence, in their joy, and in their imagination, no matter their differences. Although I was sad to leave, the experience I had at Neil made me adopt a new way of thinking, and I realized that there is not one right way to do one thing, but that, in fact, there are a million ways to accomplish something. What is good and what is normal is unique to our own perspectives.

With the wonderful experience that I had at Neil, I decided that I wanted to become a site leader. This past spring break, I was given the opportunity to lead a trip of 10 students to Fort Worth, TX, to volunteer at Samaritan House, a permanent housing residence and safe haven for people that live below the poverty line and are affected by HIV/AIDS.

nikole2I cannot explain with words how much this last trip impacted me. From the very first day, we were taken aback by the incredible kindness and generosity of the staff and residents. Each afternoon, we sat and ate lunch with the people who lived there, and we were also given the opportunity to listen to some of their stories. So many people spoke about the personal struggles they had faced in the past, as well as the obstacles they currently face. I felt fortunate enough to be able to listen to what they had to say and to get a closer understanding of a viewpoint that was different from my own. The people I met at Samaritan House further reinforced the thought that everyone deserves to be loved, to be cared for, and to have support. I learned so much about homelessness as well as the social impacts for individuals who face HIV/AIDS, and I began to recognize how much your environment impacts you, whether it is a positive or negative impact.

As participants, we questioned our beliefs and challenged our own preconceived notions, and I believe that with this, we became a more thoughtful, compassionate, and caring group of individuals. I was so proud of my participants and was amazed by how much growth they demonstrated as the trip continued, which made me recognize how fulfilling it is to be a site leader. I learned that everyone has a different perception of reality, and that perception is greatly defined by how we grow up. Not one person will always have the same belief systems as the other, and so, the best way to bring about social change and to help one other is to first understand each other. Only when we make an effort to see a viewpoint that is different from our own, become friends with people who are unique from us, and make an effort to step outside of our comfort zones, can we finally start to make a difference. The ASB trips we participate in may only last for a week, but what we learn during this (too) short period of time always influences me for the better.

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

Alternative Stories #13: This I can promise you

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. International Studies and Biology student and site leader Mackenzie McIntyre shares her story this week. 

1184939_10203294260339096_769816582_nHaphazardly stuffed with sleeping bags, rain coats, and (soon to be forgotten) economics textbooks, our white Dodge hybrid waits patiently on the corner of Church and Hill Street, preparing for the 18-hour adventure that would eventually deliver 11 college students to Waco, Texas. During a week when students tend to favor home-cooked meals, 24-hour Netflix binges, and the balmy breezes of Punta Cana, we will be working on a sustainable farm, engaging in a poverty simulation, and learning about the intersecting issues surrounding domestic hunger.

What could ever convince a group of college students to trade the sun, the sand, and the warmth of Mexico for seven days of service-learning on a sustainable farm in Texas? Well, I can’t speak for the other ten people in my van, but I can certainly attempt to describe the incredible sequence of events that eventually led to this moment.

My experience with Alternative Spring Break developed during a period of my life in which uncertainty characterized every moment. Uncertain friends. Uncertain groups. Uncertain major. Uncertain future.  As the thrill of freshman year dissipated, I was left without any sense of true belonging. I was a confused sophomore — too old to claim naivety, yet too inexperienced to feel secure.

I was searching for a family, but I felt too lonely. I was yearning for a purpose, but I couldn’t seem to pin one down.  I was craving a challenge, but was left unmotivated.

Everything felt so uncertain.

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Alternative Stories #12: A community at PKRC

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, nursing student and site-leader Merin Paul shares her story.

ASB PKRCFreshman year was a whirlwind of meeting new people and having new experiences, but also finding my place at the University of Michigan, which can be hard when you are on a campus of thousands of students. You’re not sure where to start.

I had applied to Alternative Spring Break by complete chance my first semester, encouraged by peers in my living-learning community at the time, but not thinking anything of it — I was an introvert and really didn’t think I would be accepted. But I honestly loved volunteering from my experiences in high school; the act of giving to another without asking anything in return was always a mantra revered by my parents and instilled in me. I was really surprised when I was accepted to our trip, and thinking back, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me freshman year. I can only think that my site-leaders saw something in me — something that I didn’t, in choosing to be on our ASB trip — because, without ASB, I can say that I would not have half the confidence in who I am or what I stand for at this university today.

Our trip was a Health and Disabilities trip to Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children (PKRC) in Killeen, TX., a camp for pre-K through high school youth with disabilities, where they could experience the same outdoor activities that able-bodied children regularly did. Going in, I was a bit uneasy, as I had never worked with kids before. I worried about how I would interact with them or even if I would be able to relate to them. Health and Disabilities was a topic I was passionate about as a nursing student, but also from growing up with a family friend with autism. What I loved about PKRC was how incredibly inclusive it was to all campers, adapting activities so that campers could have experiences perhaps not always accessible to people with disabilities.

asb the girlsI remember one of my experiences at PKRC very clearly: A few others from my ASB group and I had been assigned the task of fishing with some of the older campers for part of the day. I was a bit apprehensive because I had never fished before but also because I had never worked with older children. What if they didn’t like me or didn’t want to talk to me? What if I didn’t know how to aid them if they needed me to? I let these irrational fears flood my head at we waited by the dock for the kids to arrive, but once the yellow school bus pulled up and we started greeting the kids as they got out, my fears quickly dissipated. They were so excited to fish, and thrilled when we started handing out the rods, that it made me even more pumped to experience this for the first time along with them. Some of the kids who were quieter and introverted I could easily relate to, and we quickly hit it off during conversation. These same campers would soon talk ecstatically about their favorite teachers at school, and when a fish finally bit, the excitement was uncontainable. It was in that moment I came to understand that disabilities do not and should not define people.

I grew a lot personally and with my peers on that trip. As we reflected each night, talking about our experiences each day and about the moments when we were scared or uncertain, I realized I was not the only student with these insecurities; we were all vulnerable to an extent. This brought us together only too quickly, and I can easily say my PKRC family is a family I grew to rely on long after the trip was over. Without ASB, I would not be who I am today at Michigan, which is why I was motivated to apply to be a site leader last year. If I could contribute at all to other participants’ self-exploration, camaraderie, awareness, confidence or excitement during their ASB experiences in the same way that I was lucky to have received, that will have been be my greatest accomplishment.

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

Alternative Stories #11: Breaking a stereotype

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 Tina Al-khersan, an International Studies and AAPTIS sophomore and ASB site leader.

png;base647177748e4dff94f2I entered my first year of college wanting to embrace with open arms opportunities that I would be unable to find elsewhere, and I hoped that these experiences would leave long lasting impressions on me.

I found just that in ASB.

My freshmen year of college, I struggled to find any clubs or extracurriculars that really interested me; I kept dropping in and out of groups with the hopes of discovering a topic that really spoke to me. I just could not find anything that I thoroughly enjoyed or anything that added to my college experience and self discovery.

After searching for different clubs for a while, I decided to apply for ASB. I knew my older sister and brother had done ASB during their college years, and I thought that I would give it a try because they always raved about their experiences. I ended up missing the deadline for one of the groups I applied for but was accepted into the second group. While we had weekly reflections, these did not necessarily prepare me for how eye-opening of an experience I was going to have while on my ASB trip.

During my freshman-year spring break, I was fortunate enough to go to the South Side of Chicago — the place that tourists avoid when they visit famous sites like the Bean. We were going to be working with an organization that provided jobs for people who had recently been released from prison. The organization provided jobs, shelters, and frankly, a second chance at life. Admittedly I went in with a list of qualities that I thought these people would possess. Society so often tries to tell us that people who go to jail are bad people and that they are mean, scary, and unrelatable.

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This view that I had held about the types of people who go to prison was completely and absolutely shattered when I had the opportunity to interact with the men with whom we worked. Over the course of the week, I learned that they had been placed in unfortunate circumstances that they had no control over, and their personalities were warm, inviting, and so very kind. They taught me so much about how the criminal justice system is failing its people, how to have an open mind, and how to expect much more out of people than you give them credit for.

After the week ended with the organization, we had a reflection with our participants and the men with whom we worked. They explained to us that, through the friendships formed and conversations had, they realized how much potential they had to change their community. Since then, I have watched them take strides to combat teen gang violence in their community by creating their own organization. Also, they showed me how to effectively and passionately be an agent of change and how to positively interact with the surrounding community. I learned from them that ASB is not about entering a community and trying to “fix” what you may perceive to be broken. Rather, ASB is about entering a community with the hopes that you and the participants will go through an eye-opening experience together and learn from each other, and I thank them so much for that.

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

Alternative Stories #10: Leading change

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. Sophomore site leader Emily Yerington shares her story this week.

1898243_1468673180014188_253243027_nI learned about Alternative Spring Break by walking through the Diag and seeing the letters “ASB” written in chalk. Curious as to what these letters stood for, I went home and looked them up.

Having enjoyed volunteering in high school, I decided on a lark to apply. I got accepted to a trip to Neil Elementary School, a low-income school in Chicago, Ill., for students with physical and mental disabilities. I had never worked with special-needs students before and, to be honest, I was a bit nervous.

Once I got there, the students at Neil were nothing but friendly. Visiting Neil allowed me to understand the complexities of education inequalities. I met an 8th-grader who struggled with basic math, but offered incredible insight into the problems of racism and classism. And no matter what physical (several of the students were in wheelchairs) or academic setbacks they faced, all of the children could out-dance my ASB group and me! I realized that traditional means of testing could never adequately measure the success of this school or others like it. I came back from Neil inspired to pursue a career in education policy so that I can effect change on a large scale for students like those at Neil Elementary.

Having had such an eye opening experience with ASB as a freshman, I decided to become a site leader. Like my first ASB trip, my experience as a site leader has already exceeded expectations. Going in, I expected to enjoy this role, but I had no idea how much. I stay up late thinking of activities to do with my team and researching aspects of our social justice issue. I enjoy standing out in the cold going bucketing because I relish the opportunity to spend time with my team and to tell passers-by about the ASB program and our trip. Fundraising is not a chore, but a challenge. I look forward to the weekly Education & Training sessions from Lead Team, where they explain leadership strategies such as conflict resolution, team-building, fundraising techniques and how to spread the word about ASB. This year, ASB not only taught me more about the complexities of social justice issues, but also taught me about myself. I learned that I love being a leader and hope to incorporate the skills and knowledge I learned in ASB into my career.IMG_0471

ASB has been a highlight of my college experience so far and I’m sure it will continue to be in the future. Not only have I developed a passion and skillset from ASB, but I have met a network of like-minded individuals working to combat social justice issues. Social justice is not about “saving” others; it is about learning from new cultures and working to improve society as a whole, and so I hope to take the knowledge gained from my experience with ASB and become a catalyst for positive change in education.

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