I have probably said this before in this forum but I can say that this has been one of the best weeks I have had on this earth. When I volunteered to be a facilitator for Bryant’s 2014 Altenative Spring Break I was uncertain how this week would go. I only knew one of the students and one of the other staff members beforehand and had no idea what the sites or accommodations would be like. For those of you not familiar with this program, Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is where a group of college students use their spring break to give back to communities in need. In our case this meant that 12 students and 4 staff members traveled by vans to Washigton, DC and volunteered at three different sites. Our organizations were:
Food and Friends:
Food and Friends is an organization that prepares and delivers meals and groceries for clients with HIV/AIDS, with cancer, in hospice care and other health challenges. There is no fee and income/insurance does not dictate eligibility. They prepare and deliver 2.1 million meals a year with a full time staff of about 50. They depend heavily on volunteers.
Preconceived Notions: I expected a little food pantry with mismatched donations. I also didn’t expect to enjoy the experience as much as the other sites.
Reflection: F&F was probably my favorite site. They operate like a well oiled machine and their staff is friendly and passionate about what they do. On day one my group was charged with the task of packing groceries. There is an intricate system but once we got into our rhythm we packed over 300 bags of groceries. Each bag will last a client 2 weeks. They have 16 different diet plans so we had to pay close attention to detail as to what was going in the bags. For example if the bag was labeled “diab” it meant that the client is diabetic and we subbed some items for sugar free options. Alex (shown below) was a great leader and you could tell how appreciative he was of the help. By the 3rd day we helped to put him 2 days ahead of schedule.
The next two days I saw a whole other side of the operation. I went out on deliveries. This was the most eye opening because I came in direct contact with the clients we served. We traveled to some pretty unsavory areas of DC. It made me think heavily about the privalege of choice. I have the ability to chose safety and security, I can choose my food each day, I can choose my healthcare providers. Many of these clients are of low income families where basic choices are a luxury.
Little Sisters of the Poor:
LSP has been in the news as of late for not great reasons so I’m not going to comment on that. I’m speaking strictly to my experience this week. Our 2nd site of each day was Little Sisters of the Poor, a nursing home next to our retreat center. The students seemed to make meaningful connections with the residents. In many cases, these would be the only visitors residents would have all week. It was great to talk about their life experiences and history. My favorite was a woman named Ada that I met on our last day. She is in her 80’s and her smile lights up the room. She was sweet, wise, and eminated such warmth. She also destroyed us at scrabble with Pat’s help (it was her first time playing but I think she was hustling us).
St. Anthony Catholic School:
On the first day I was unsure how I felt about this site. It ripped my heart in two to see these kids playing in a parking lot with no fence with nothin more than a couple beat up basketballs and milk crates. Every time a ball went into the street my heart stopped. These kids deserve a proper place to play. Even their gym is in rough shape. The floor is cement with chipped old paint. After making connections with some of these kids I want to build a damn fence myself.
These kids are ages Pre K-8. The majority of students are in the after school program and many stay as late as 6:30pm before a parent comes. They are so full of love and just want someone’s undivided attention. I was more than happy to provide it. I specifically connected with a group of 5th grade girls. We played capture the flag, wrote fairy tales, and they all PROMISED to continue their education to realize their dreams. Leaving them on Wednesday was like a knife in the gut. They begged me to come back next year. That is just added incentive to do ASB again.
Aside from the conditions of the school hearing personal stories from students surprised me most. It is apparent that there is minimal parental support for many of the kids. They are also exposed to very adult issues. One of my students was helping a 2nd grade teacher grade papers. The assignment was to fill in the blank. One student completed this sentence: “It is illegal to BLANK” with “do cocaine”. How does an 8 year old even know what that is? Overall the home life for many of the children appears to be rough. In spite of everything these kids are eager to learn, love, and achieve their dreams. My sweet 5th graders made me a little card on my last day
Cue heart melting out of my chest.
Outside of our service work this group had a blast together. I’ve never laughed so hard in a week. Every meal, car ride, and reflection was hysterical and full of camaradrie. This trip really allowed me to step into a different role and get to know these students on a personal level. We sang, laughed, and had great conversations about their dreams and goals. I learned so much from these kids.
Oh…and we did a bit of site seeing on a day where the temp dropped 20 degrees. Needless to say it was more of a museum day. I did snap a few shots in passing.
Overall, I wouldn’t change a single aspect of this week. I am so glad this past recurrance didn’t compromise my ability to participate. THANK YOU undergraduate advising for allowing me to/supporting me to seize this opportunity.
(P.s. Minor snafu: sprained my ankle on day 1 playing tag with 3rd graders. I hate tag. It’s evil.)