Branch Out Alternative Breaks

Creating a community of active & educated individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice

And to Think, I Almost Didn’t Go…

by Marilyn AmpaduĀ 

Our Branch Out trip to Philadelphia, PA may be the event that sets the course for the rest of my life, but before you can understand that, we have to go to the beginning. Even before I had ever heard of or worked with Branch Out, I had an instinctual passion for social justice and equality. I had already decided to pursue a life of active service and deal with incorporating my occupation later. The trip to Philadelphia was focused on labor rights and living wages, two causes I strongly advocate. Even with this, the thought of losing time from family, friends, and home to go to a place I’d never been and partner with strangers took time to settle in me. In the end, I left for Philadelphia that morning feeling slightly apprehensive of the week ahead of me.

The trip commenced with a shaky start. We arrived to find our host community in disarray while gearing up for what seemed like the millionth winter storm of the season. The snow would take a whole day out of our schedule. Yet we arrived just in time to see what our entire week was about. Our partner church, Arch Street United Methodist, ran a weekly dinner service for the homeless citizens of the city. Along with this, the church also served as a shelter, hosting events daily and housing 30-50 men each night.

Along with Grace Cafe, we got to work with Serenity House, a branch of the church located in one of the most conflicted and fear-ridden parts of the city. This colorful building filled with books, toys, tea, and love served as an asylum for the neighborhood. While there, we aided in some cleaning and renovation. One of the greatest moments of our trip was watching members of the community gather on the porch of the house to pick out some of the discarded items we had cleared out. Seeing this served as a reminder of the humanity that was in the world and of the small and common things that can bring us together. But the most influential event for me was working with a group called POWER.

On our second to last day in Philadelphia we partnered with Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild. Based in the city, POWER is an organization made up of several multi-denominational and religious congregations who set aside their faith differences to unite on common goals and beliefs for humanity. Hearing of this group’s accomplishments and the work they were doing everyday to change that city for the better was one of the most deeply impacting moments of my life. I had seen the Occupy Movement on television, heard of people coming together, and always found it amazing, but it was the first time I was physically aware of the power of people around me. Partnering with POWER, Serenity House, and Arch Street through Branch Out did more for me than I may have done for them. This trip gave me a hope and passion of what is possible if even a few people believe it into existence. It is because of this profound experience that I am returning to Philadelphia this summer to continue the change, not only in a city, but in myself, that began this Spring Break. I hope, through my work, I can make a lasting impact to the city of Philadelphia. But more so, I hope the city and people of Philadelphia can continue to make a lasting impact on me and the plans of my future. And to think, I almost didn’t go…

Author: Melody Porter

Hello blogosphere! While I am a relative newcomer to you, I am a long-time fan of human connection. I used to say that my major in college (above my actual political science & religion double major) was in friendships. Conversations over long meals or late nights on dorm hallway floors have been transformative in my life, and it only makes sense to me to dip my toe into new ways of opening up conversation here. Some details about my life and role at W&M: I have worked at William and Mary since August 2008, and am Associate Director in the Office of Community Engagement. I spend my time fostering student leadership in the broad areas of alternative breaks and local anti-poverty initiatives. Doing so lets me fulfill what I understand my calling to be about: working for social justice in the world, and equipping others to do so with skill, sensitivity and great love. And my pre-W&M life... I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion from Emory University in 1995. After graduating, I decided to get further into the world of community development and service. I served as a long-term volunteer for three years, beginning a job development program in Philadelphia and working with preschool children in Johannesburg, South Africa. I came back to Emory to earn a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology in 2001, with a focus in religious education. I spent a frenetic and exciting year working four jobs - from TA'ing a preaching class with Tom Long, to catering barbecue, to managing a nonprofit family literacy program with immigrant and refugee families. I went on from there to be Associate Minister at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, working in areas of social justice and community development, and directing an after school program that served more than 100 high school students. Finally, it was one more stop at Emory - where I served for three years as director of Volunteer Emory, a student-led department for community service. Through all of my professional and volunteer experiences, and life in general, I have seen how connected and interdependent people and communities are everywhere I believe in the power of mutual service to transform lives and create social change. I also love cheese fries.

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