Branch Out Alternative Breaks

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

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My Spring Break in Kilmarnock, Virginia

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.

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Greenhouse Powerhouse

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.

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Be a Humanizing Force

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.

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Mountaintop Removal and Appalachian Justice

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Active Citizens Celebration Student Speaker

by Erin Faltermeier

April 2014

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.

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Mountains, Coal and Appalachian Music

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.

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Rural Health Care in Kilmarnock, VA

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.

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Justice Beyond the Mountains

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.

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And to Think, I Almost Didn’t Go…

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.

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Lasting Change in a Community

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.

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