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by Lauren Donahue ’17

    

     As a junior at the College, I have learned a lot about the cool and unique opportunities available for students here. When I was a senior in high school, I visited an admitted students day at a different university and met a student who told us about his experience doing an alternative spring break and how rewarding it was. I chatted with him for a while about it and right there and then, I decided that I was going to participate in alternative breaks when I got to college.
     So I got to William & Mary, and set out to find an alternative spring break. After a quick google search, I found W&M’s Office of Community Engagement, which houses a program called “Branch Out,” which brings students to regional, national, and international locations. Regional trips go on fall break and MLK weekend, national trips (which I did) go to a city within a day’s drive on the Eastern seaboard over spring break, and international trips go over winter and spring breaks. Yay! Exactly what I wanted! So I applied, got my second choice trip, and set off!
     Before your branch out trip, your site leaders educate you about social justice issues. You, as a participant, choose which issue you want to learn about. There are MANY options, including affordable housing, rural and urban education, economic disparities, environmental sustainability, and healthcare inequalities.
     My freshman year, I went on a trip to D.C. to learn about the literacy gap in urban schools. My site leaders were two incredible, devoted, hardworking, and passionate sophomores who I greatly admired. On the trip, I met Becky Keitelman, who graduated in 2015. Branch Out was a unique experience in and of itself, and meeting Becky was an added bonus! I made some great friends, gained a new perspective on America’s education system, and learned about privilege — my own, my W&M peers’, and what privilege means.
     My sophomore year, I applied to be a Site Leader for a Branch Out National trip and was selected to lead a trip to Kilmarnock, Virginia (an extremely rural area about an hour north of Williamsburg). My trip focused on rural healthcare. I organized education materials, discussions, and games for my group of 10 students, while coordinating with my co-site leader. We organized a budget for all 12 of us, making sure we were living on a budget of $5 of food per person per day, which is the equivalent of living on food stamps. It was a challenging experience to organize a budget for all 12 of us, but I learned so much about my leadership style, the need to organize and meticulously plan, and how to resolve conflict with my co site leader.
     When we actually got to the clinic we were working at, we focused on having open minds and hearts. Our team assisted medical professionals (doctors, nurses, PAs, pharmacists) with taking vitals and patient histories, maintaining the pharmacy, and learning about the operations of the dental clinic.
     Being a site leader was a truly remarkable experience. I had two of my Kappa Delta sisters on the trip with me, who provided me with support and hugs in my times of stress during the trip. I loved leading our group in reflection, an important part of every Branch Out trip that consists of the team members sitting in a circle and discussing what happened that day, how we can talk about it and how it affected us, and why what we did and are doing matters.
     Branch Out is a great organization and I have met some amazing people through it. I highly recommend doing it! It will open your eyes in ways you could never dream of, make you grateful for all that you have, introduce you to people that you will cherish sharing this experience with, and give you energy and enthusiasm to become an active, engaged citizen at W&M! Check out Branch Out here: http://www.wm.edu/offices/oce/branchout/