By Sabrina Elzbir
Myrtle Beach, Cabo, Cancun, Costa Rica: these were the places I saw in pictures of friends on their spring break trips. It was the first spring break where I had decided not to go home, and as enticing as it seemed to plan a fabulous spring vacation soaking up the sun, I decided to do something different with the time off and go on an alternative spring break trip with Branch Out. There were a couple of things I knew for certain before I decided to spend my spring break in Baltimore, Maryland: I was going to learn about something I knew nothing about and meet other people I (most likely) would have never met before. But what happened during this one week was much more.
While discussing my work with some friends over dinner last night, one of them asked the first question that often comes to mind when we talk about alternative breaks: “How do students pay for these trips? They must be expensive, right?”
by Amanda Wells
After an educational, and eye-opening trip to Laredo, Texas, our service group returned to Williamsburg, Virginia. In Laredo we did our best to assist with a house build in a Mexican and Mexican-American community. Back in Williamsburg, we continued to work with Habitat for Humanity through the Williamsburg ReStore. ReStore allows families from all financial backgrounds to furnish and personalize their homes. Our team helped with the ReStore’s Annual Fundraiser by selling food and washing cars. Team members advertised on the street, while the rest of us interacted directly with the public. We washed cars for individuals from every socioeconomic background, and every customer donated something for the Habitat cause. The event organizers did everything in their power to support our work today, providing all our cleaning supplies and a hearty lunch for the entire group.
by Kanako Matsuda
My spring break started on a warm Sunday morning, as my team and I gathered in front of Sadler Center to be picked up. After packing our luggage expertly into the crowded van, we were off on the road for the next hour. When we arrived at Kilmarnock, Virginia, I was eager to finally see the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic for the first time. It is a wonderful place, bright and welcoming, as was our community partner. She gave us a short tour around the clinic, showing us the kitchen where we could make our meals and the upper lounge where we could wind down (and work!). After this tour, much story-telling, and dinner, we hopped back into the van and headed to our next destination: a comfy trailer which we called our home for the week. And so day one ended.
by Tattiana Bamba
Before going on my Branch Out trip I was a little apprehensive: I didn’t know anything about sustainable farming! After two days of hard labor in freezing temperatures I was less than impressed to say the least. But then there was a break in the storm, literally, and I started to realize how important the work that we were doing was. During this trip I learned a lot. One of the interesting things that I learned while preparing for our presentation on the trip was the difference between organic food and sustainable food. I learned the importance of being conscious of where your food comes from and how costly food miles can be. After watching a TEDx talk on urban sustainable farming, I became motivated to make a more conscious decision to get involved when I move back to New York. Sustainable farming is becoming more of a big deal because people are running out of options (either food is cheap but really bad for you or its really expensive, mass produced organic food with a million food miles on it). The root cause of the sustainable food issue is that it’s too easy for people to just run to the grocery store without thinking, but soon that won’t be an option for them and it certainly won’t be as easy for our kids and grand kids.
by Charlotte Mabon
One of my favorite TED talks is given by feminist author Courtney Martin. When I’m a little low or feeling stretched too thin, I will watch the short talk for a quick pick-me-up. I remember the first time I watched this talk. I remember sitting on my bed in the Units (yes I lived in the Units as a sophomore and it really wasn’t that bad) and just happened to be scrolling through TED Talk’s webpage.
by Erin Faltermeier
When I was in high school, I volunteered. There were afternoons spent picking weeds out of community gardens, tutoring young kids. I did so because I wanted to be a good person, I wanted to help out, I wanted to get into college. Looking back now I can see that I approached these experiences with a limited perspective and therefore produced only limited outcomes. Through my subconscious act of oversimplifying and labeling myself as the “helper” and those that I served as needing of my help, I unknowingly created a wall between myself and those that I sought to serve, shielding myself from feeling the empathy truly needed for successful community engagement. Now I don’t look back reproachfully at my former self, far from it. I chose my actions out of good intentions, and I optimistically believe that there were some good deeds accomplished. Still, I see now how my approach lacked nuance, my understandings lacked context, my attitude lacked humility. When you only skim the surface you see what is beneath through a distorted lens. I never asked the hard questions, so I never had to confront the difficult answers. I helped, but I didn’t understand. I wasn’t an active citizen.
by Natalie Hurd
I spent Spring Break in Appalachia, Virginia learning about mountain top removal. Before arriving I had watched documentaries, seen presentations and read articles about the destructive effect surface mining has on the environment around it. Once I was there, I learned very quickly that knowing something and understanding it on a human level are very different.
by Maia Tinder
Our week in Kilmarnock, VA at the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic began late on Sunday afternoon, when we met our community partner and her sweet dog in the parking lot outside of the clinic. As one of the site leaders of the trip, my co-leader and I had been told for months how warm and talkative our community partner would be and we saw this right away. After standing in the parking lot for about 10 minutes sharing stories about her dog and introducing each other, we headed inside for a tour of the clinic and the spaces we would be using to cook dinner, keep our things, and a brief tour of the other areas we would be working. We then went with our community partner to the place where we would be sleeping, which was actually the original site of the clinic at its establishment. We had planned that evening to drive over to a place on the Chesapeake Bay, which our community partner told us was beautiful, but after we had come into the clinic and put our things down, we looked outside the window and saw that the snow forecasted for the week was already beginning to come down in a wet sleet. We were warned by our community partner that the clinic may be closed the next day if there was too much snow, but that we would have to figure it out when the time came. We decided to go later in the week, said goodbye to our community partner, and settled down to have a team meeting to discuss logistics for the week.