by Madeleine Boel
Mountaintop removal was not something I was aware of until I joined William & Mary’s Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC). Members of SEAC has been to Mountain Justice Spring Break, and told us about the devastations of mountaintop removal. This form of resource extraction blows the tops off of mountains to get to coal seams. It’s cheaper and less labor intensive than traditional mining, but way more destructive to the environment. When Branch Out and SEAC announced that there would be a Mountain Justice trip to Appalachia, Virginia, I knew I had to go and see this for myself.
by Marilyn Ampadu
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.
by Dominique Langhorne
My original plan for this past spring break was to stay in bed all day watching Netflix. I changed this plan after one of my site leaders came to my Human Geography class to recruit people for the Virginia Organizing Branch Out trip. Although I had never heard about Virginia Organizing until that moment, I decided that I wanted to get involved with this trip because it seemed to be a great way to help people and it applied to my major in Government. I am not normally a person who goes out and makes friends or gets involved in school activities. On this trip I met many great people and I got involved with a great organization.
by Maab Yasin
The amount of blessings that came out of this trip are too many to count and they have been stitched together to form a permanent smile across my heart. The DC Central Kitchens crew probably has the highest concentration of humble, genuine, supportive, down-to-earth, honest and all around beautiful people in one organization I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. My branch out team was composed of a refreshingly dynamic group of passionate, caring and energetic people who made the trip even more meaningful than I thought it would be.
by Edith Amponsah
This past spring break was the best I’ve experienced yet, and it was because of the Branch Out National trip which I took part in. We visited Mount Pleasant, S.C. to work with Habitat for Humanity partners building a house. Before this trip, I had a small experience working with Habitat for Humanity but none of that prepared me for the experience I was about to have in Mount Pleasant. I had always known that homelessness was a problem in the U.S., but my knowledge I found out soon, was immature. The pre-trip meetings which the trip leaders held prepared us for the trip through a series of educational modules. Neither I nor my friends truly understood the difficulty and responsibilities of living under the poverty line and not having a place to live. By making us aware of this social issue, our trip leaders taught us to be appreciative of all of life’s circumstances, a lesson which shaped not only shaped our thinking but our attitudes as we embarked on this trip.
by Ellie Jamerson
This past spring break I went to Philadelphia, PA to work with POWER and Arch Street on labor rights and living wages. Before departing for the trip, I expected certain activities to be challenging, but I did not have too many expectations. I wanted to keep an open mind so that I could really absorb my surroundings. All in all, I took away more from this trip than I could ever have anticipated.
by Inanje Mintz
This Spring Break, I was fortunate enough to volunteer at the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic (NNFHC) in Kilmarnock, VA. Working at the clinic was an incredible experience. Our Branch Out group tackled the issue of providing healthcare in rural populations. Our social issue focused on filling the health care gap and providing efficient care to those who are low-income and uninsured. The patients who visit the clinic are below the poverty level. The clinic is able to provide free doctor visits, free prescriptions and other medications, as well as dental care and surgery for a lifetime fee of $25.
by Wei Chang
As we stepped into the Laredo airport, it was an unexpected scene of cultural influence from the local and perhaps from the country that borders the town. As the chapter director of Habitat for Humanity at Laredo explained to us, “We are a little bit of Texas, a little bit of Mexico, but mostly a whole lot of Laredo.” In the few days that we were there, it was incredibly interesting for us to see the elements of U.S. and Mexican culture blend in the area. Laredo is home to the largest inland port on the U.S.-Mexico border. However, it is also one of the poorest area of the United States with 29.8 % of people living below the poverty level between 2008 and 2012 (U.S. Census). With the low income level, many people cannot afford housing. Habitat for Humanity in the area serves its mission by building affordable housing in Laredo for families that would have otherwise been in difficult living conditions. Among the construction site leaders and people from Habitat for Humanity, many stories were told describing the powerful moment of the house ceremony. For families that had to all share one room before to have their own house, it was a transformation. It was also a reminder of hope and a chance for the children in the family to receive education opportunities and perhaps be the first in the family to attend college. Stories of family from the past and the possibilities for the children in the future demonstrate to the volunteers and the community that change is possible. In that sense, the neighborhood cannot find a more suitable name than “Tierra Prometida” or Promised Land.
by Cathryn Zhang
The theme of our alternative trip is to learn about social issues in Philadelphia. We stayed in United Methodist Church on Arch Street, almost the center of Philly.
by Brittany Hoyle
I spent my spring break in Laredo TX, building a home with the Habitat for Humanity. At the beginning of the year I had signed up for an international volunteer break, looking for some adventure and opportunity to learn about new cultures. But international plans did not work out and our group chose to volunteer Texas along the US-Mexico border. On the trip I realized I did not need to leave the country to experience the adventure I desired, the change in culture, and opportunity to help those who really needed it. Laredo ranks among America’s poorest cities and so I felt that the work we did there really made an impact. The homes we were building were providing a safe and reliable community for those who needed it.