Education and Community Service in Louisville, KY

Over spring break in 2018, a group of students from the U-M Muslim Students’ Association went on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Louisville, Kentucky. The topic for our service-learning based trip was Youth and Education. We explored that by partnering with an amazing organization called Junior Achievement, which is dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to make smart academic and economic choices. As I reflect on this trip, I’d like to first thank the BLI, which has been dear to my heart since I started at U-M, for granting us with the Small Grant that helped with our trip expenses. We wouldn’t have had the rewarding and reflective experience that we did without their generous contribution.

Every weekday, we woke up bright and early (6 am!) and went to an elementary school in Louisville to teach a lesson about financial literacy to students ranging from kindergarten to 4th grade. Every day, we visited a different school and taught lessons ranging from explaining the difference between needs and wants, assembling “Sweet-o-Donuts” to illustrate the importance of means of production, and helping students brainstorm their own restaurants to understand how to start a business. And every night before, our group members worked to learn the lesson plans that JA provided to us. We expected challenges in our classrooms and handled them with a determination to succeed and provide a good lesson for our students. We always asked our JA supervisor and our classroom teachers when we needed any kind of assistance.

Aside from teaching children, we also explored the wonderful city of Louisville. We visited Muhammad Ali’s final resting place and were able to reflect on his life, legacy, and the role model he is for our own aspirations.We also toured the University of Louisville campus (Go Blue forever though), had ice cream with members of U of L’s Muslim Students’ Association, tried the legendary chess pie, and had dinner with the U-M Alumni Association of Louisville (again, Go Blue forever). And because we couldn’t get enough of the benefits of community service, our group also spent an evening volunteering at a mosque that served a large refugee population.

Through this trip, I gained 12 lifelong friends – my forever ASB family. The bonds that we made through our shared experiences volunteering are some I hope will last for a long time. Our trip was muddled with multiple, marvelous misadventures, including but not limited to: ice cream runs, basketball games, urgent care visits, getting lost in the woods, getting lost in the city, walking on the wrong bridge, broken pinkies, laughing about our embarrassing moments, creating every possible ASB-related pun in existence, driving in our favorite minivan—the list goes on. This trip would not have been what it was without every single one of our ASBunch.

Amidst all the fun, our group members also paused and reflected on our daily experiences every night, which truly helped us understand the magnitude of the work we were doing. Community service isn’t just work that positively impacts the community—it is work for a purpose higher than yourself that does not only enrich the community you’re assisting but also provides a teaching opportunity for yourself. Our own Islamic faith encapsulates this idea, and through reflection, I was fully able to grasp this. This opportunity also helped me truly grasp the impact of disparities due to social stratification and residential segregation on students’ educational attainment. I realized how so many factors affect a child’s education, such as health, income, teacher expectancy on a child’s ability to succeed, and more. Items as seemingly mundane as eyeglasses or hearing aids could make a significant impact on a child’s learning ability. A positive attitude and encouragement to a child learning a concept they’re unfamiliar with speaks volumes. One of the schools had a large amount of ESL students, where language barriers hindered their ability to interact with their fellow students—yet these are barriers that can be lifted with the right kind of policy and attention. In an area that is so nuanced but also so integral to our society, a policymaker has to be aware of all of these intersecting factors and invest more in improving our education on a nationwide scale.

We may have been teaching young children financial literary skills, but our students ended up teaching us so much about ourselves. The children we taught, regardless of their socioeconomic background or their identities, seemed to all possess an innocent, almost naïve desire to learn new information. Their pure eagerness to learn struck me, because it made me wonder how we lose that as adults. People have told me that I still possess that childlike yearn to learn, but even I feel cynical. It seems that we get so caught up in working towards an end goal—whether a better grade, job, income, education, or future—that we lose sight of the knowledge and memories we gain along the way. What changes throughout our lives that diminishes that spark?

This is a question I asked as I reflected on myself as a leader, but more importantly, as a member of my community. Ultimately, a trip that I once thought was just a more eventful way to spend a week than doing nothing at home ended up becoming such a life-changing and phenomenal avenue for personal growth. I recognized the value of prioritizing the goals that truly mattered to me, the importance of seizing every opportunity that came my way, and the ability to tangibly instill change with a smile on my face. As I returned to campus, that excitement, positive mindset, and eagerness to make a tangible difference never left. For the first time in a long time, I let all my stressors, academic deadlines, and extracurricular involvements go for a week, and by doing that, I was truly able to enjoy the work I did and absorb the lessons I learned from it.

That week was easily one of the most rewarding and beneficial weeks of my life, and my hope is that all students at the University of Michigan get the opportunity to go on at least one ASB trip during their time here.

By Zoha Qureshi

Ndakinna Education Center

Over spring break, twelve University of Michigan students embarked on a journey to the Ndakinna Education Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Ndakinna is a center dedicated to educating student groups on Native American culture, particularly that of the Abenaki and Algonquin people.

While at Ndakinna, we had the chance to hear from a number of speakers, including Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, members of the family who owns the center, as well as Kay, a local Mohawk woman. We also went on a few treks with Jim Bruchac, where he taught us wilderness skills including fire building and animal tracking. Here are a few things we learned along the way:

1. “Ndakinna” (pronounced in-DAH-ki-nah) means “our land” in the Abenaki language.

2.Many principles used by the Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution originate from Native American ideals, particularly from tribes belonging to the Iroquois Confederacy.

3. When building a fire, the paper-like bark from birch trees is your best friend. This is what we used to ensure that our sparks caught when Jim taught us how to build fires during one of our hikes.

4. Members of native communities in generations as recently as that of Joseph’s own father were forced into extreme cultural assimilation. Sterilization of native people was not uncommon.

 5. There is not a distinction between masculine and feminine words in Native American languages as there is in many Romance languages. Instead, words are categorized by animacy: there is a certain set of nouns, adjectives, and verbs for living things, and another set for inanimate objects.

6. Saratoga Springs is the home of several springs that were famous among Native Americans for having healing powers. People would travel from far and wide to drink the water from these springs, which now runs in fountains located downtown. 

7. Women hold respected roles in many Native American cultures. For example, among tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy, women are the only ones who can nominate, elect, and impeach tribe leaders. This was of particular interest to our group, since all twelve of us were girls

8. Many English words and names are borrowed from native languages. For example, ‘Michigan’ originated from the Algonquin word for ‘land that brings food.’

9. According to Mohawk myth, the Earth was formed on the back of a turtle by a girl named Sky Woman, the moon is our grandmother, and the Sun is our eldest brother.

10.When tracking animals, a good trick is to look for bark dust in the snow. If there is not a lot of tree debris in the tracks, then they are fresh.

This is just a taste of what we learned and experienced at Ndakinna. We took so much away from this trip, and we were lucky enough to be able to leave something behind as well. Each student group is given the chance to create a mural to commemorate their time at Ndakinna. Here’s ours

The mural represents aspects of the Mohawk creation story, including the Tree of Life and Brother Sun as well as an experience we shared involving Abenaki dance. We were so fortunate to hear so many stories from our site leaders, and now, in a sort of chainlike reaction, we have the opportunity to tell our stories as well. The Bruchacs taught us that in Abenaki tradition, storytellers would often say “Ho” when they finished their tale, and the audience would respond “Hey” to show they were listening.

So, I hope you have enjoyed the abridged version of our alternative spring break story; this is where I leave you: Ho…

By Logan Tidstrom

Crank Creek Survival Center

As part of the Michigan Active Citizen-Alternative Spring Break program through the
Ginsberg Center here at the University of Michigan, we traveled to Harlan County in Kentucky to volunteer with Cranks Creek Survival Center, a local nonprofit. Cranks Creek has worked in the area for decades, providing housework services, food, and household supplies to residents in need. The founder, Becky Simpson, has passed away, but her husband, Bobby Simpson, has continued her work. The organization hosts many student groups in the spring and summer to help work on maintenance and deliver supplies. In our time with Cranks Creek, we worked on rebuilding the house of a family in the area. We quickly learned the ins and outs of measuring tapes, drills, and hammers, and were left to work on the house while other volunteers with the organization delivered supplies and ran day-to-day operations. Over the course of the week, we observed tangible progress on our work and grew close with the family we were working with. A number of us talked to residents about issues such as the status of coal mining, politics, climate change, and other things. These experiences opened our eyes to new viewpoints on the world and we are incredibly grateful for the experience. We would like to express our gratitude to the Barger Leadership Institute for their support of our trip. We look forward to continue working with the Ginsberg Center and BLI in the near future!

By Finntan Storer

APO Alternative Spring Break: Peaceable Kingdom

This past week 12 brothers of the service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, had the opportunity to volunteer at the Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children in Killeen, Texas. Here, we were able to engage with children that ranged in physical and mental abilities. We worked with children from elementary school all the way to graduating high school seniors. When we were not with the children, we were deep cleaning the main kitchen, which had not been done in over 5 years.

We knew that it would be difficult to quantify our the impact of our work, however, we were able to do so qualitatively. For the children we experienced firsthand how happy they were to be there. The majority of the children were reluctant to leave and while they were there, they opened up and tried new things. For one of the events we gave the children a chance to touch or hold a live snake, tortoise, and rabbit. Although many of the children were afraid to touch the snake in particular, after seeing the UM students and other students calmly touch and hold the snakes, some of the students who were scared before gave it a chance and realized that they had nothing to fear. One aspect that we did not account for was how helpful this would be for the parents and teachers of the children. Although, we saw how much energy each child had, we only engaged with them for a couple of hours. Their teachers were with them nearly everyday for months, which requires an immeasurable amount of energy and patience. We realized that we had helped relive some of the stress of the teachers by being there and actively looking after each child. The teachers were able to relax and take a little bit of a break, which they deserved. Also, we could see a considerable difference in the cleanliness of the kitchen as well, one of the counselors said that she was almost brought to tears because she had never seen it that clean, even though she had worked there for almost 6 years. Overall, I think we surpassed our initial goals because we could see and hear the impact of our work form the the children, teachers and camp staff.

 

We were lucky enough to not have many challenges. One of the only ones we had was with the weather. There were supposed to be thunderstorms for the majority of the week, however, we were lucky and it did not rain heavily until our last full day. However, we had to change our plans on the last day, but it was no problem because the camp staff had various backup plans ready to go. This also tied into the development of our leadership skills as we had to think on our feet and be willing to lead any activity with confidence. Throughout the week we constantly had to volunteer to facilitate activities that we just learned and had to teach the students how to play them, while taking their abilities into consideration. I was also essential that we worked on our communication skills with each other as well as the staff and children. We did think by doing daily reflections on the “roses, buds, and thorns” of the day with the staff and other students.
Now that we are back we intend to continue to return to the camp either as volunteers or to fill the summer camp intern position that they offered to us. We also want to continue to do  advocacy work for differently-abled people. We will also continue to offer service events through our fraternity that allow students to interact with people that may be different than them.

Additionally, we will be encouraging a new cohort of brothers to go the the camp next summer and/or apply for the internship as well.

 

By Brandon Bond

Project Lazarus – New Orleans, LA

We want to thank BLI for the grant support that allowed us to significantly subsidize travel expenses for Alpha Epsilon Delta’s ASB trip to New Orleans! We spent the majority of our trip volunteering at Project Lazarus, the oldest and largest residential facility that supports people living with HIV/AIDS in the Gulf Coast region. In addition to housing, Project Lazarus provides services not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and cultivates a close-knit community among residents. Further, many residents utilize the facility’s serene outdoor spaces in beautiful New Orleans weather.

Justin Pawloski and Emily Lerner work on fixing a bike

During our mornings at Project Lazarus, we played Uno and basketball with the residents. Occasionally, we participated in some of the classes and excursions set up for residents including a photography class, acupuncture, and a walk through the Margeny area to Crescent park. In the afternoons, we primarily helped the ground technician, Carol, with weeding and planting flowers, but also helped with other miscellaneous tasks including fixing the tires on a couple of the residents’ bikes and cleaning up common areas.

 

Emily Lerner and Carissa Bartkowiak take a break from gardening

The night before our last day of service, one of our group members got sick. Through discussion with Project Lazarus, we came to the conclusion that it would be best if we found somewhere else to work for our last day. We spent Friday morning contacting numerous non-profits in New Orleans and ultimately found two great organizations: HandsOn New Orleans and Green Light New Orleans. HandsOn New Orleans connects volunteers with service opportunities in their community. Green Light New Orleans empowers individuals to addresses climate change through use of energy efficient light bulbs, rain barrels, and vegetable gardens in their backyard.

Group members huddle in for a selfie with a resident after a game of UNO

On Friday afternoon, half of our group helped HandsOn New Orleans with demolition on a home owned by the executive director who could not afford to finish his repairs. His work is centered on providing volunteers to help other people, therefore it was rewarding to serve as volunteers to return the favor. The other half of our group split their time between painting rain barrels and gardening at the Green Light community garden.

Megan McKenzie paints a rain barrel for Green Light New Orleans

Out of all the BLI habits, the ones we used the most were ‘Pause and Reflect’, and ‘Expect Challenges’. ‘Pause and Reflect’ was a central habit of our trip given that reflection is one of the essential aspects of a successful alternative spring break trip. Every night after dinner we sat down, discussed our highs/lows of the day and reflected on service and our social identities. Specifically, we had discussions about what motivates our service, how our definition of service has changed or stayed the same, and how, if so, our awareness of different social identities has changed throughout this experience. On our final night, all ASB members wrote a letter to themselves about their experiences on the trip, which we will be meeting to reflect on again in the coming month.

Justin Pawloski, Lauren Weinberg, Brennan Metzler, Tyler Adams, Tosin Adeyemi, Zach Hoisington, and HandsOn New Orleans Director Chris Cameron smile after a long day of demolition

‘Expect Challenges’ was a habit that we wish we had contemplated a little bit more before the trip, but was also a habit that we definitely appreciated and understood more during our last day of service. It was challenging trying to find new organizations to volunteer with last-minute on Friday, but searching through all of the non-profit organizations in New Orleans also opened our eyes to all of the incredible service going on there. Our experience serving at Project Lazarus and at two other amazing non-profits instilled an appreciation for service that many of us will reflect on and carry with us for years to come.

 

By: Tosin Adeyemi, Emily Lerner, and Lauren Weinberg

Alternative Break – Burton, TX

Our group had the opportunity to volunteer at Camp For All (CFA), which is a camp in Burton, Texas for kids and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Throughout the 5 days that we spent at CFA, we learned both from each other and the campers.

The first few days of service, we worked on maintenance around the camp, because the campers weren’t coming until the 4th day. One of the key values of ASB is “no task is too small”, meaning that our purpose is to do anything that the site needs of us. As site leaders, we were super proud of our participants for upholding these values. We helped CFA get the cabins ready for the kids that were arriving later in the week.

The morning that the campers arrived, we greeted the kids and helped unload their luggage off of the buses. Over the next two days with the kids we were able to run carnival games, serve lunch and dinner, help at a bonfire and throw a dance. We were lucky to be given the chance to interact with such lively campers, all of whom enlightened us on the harm that the stigma on physical disabilities holds. The kids taught us that a physical disability does not impede one’s ability to accomplish tasks.

Our work at Camp For All helped us to see the harm that exists in limiting a child just because of a physical disability. We learned that there is no right way or wrong way to do something, but it is instead an alternative way.

The $200 that we were awarded through Barger went towards our petty cash fund. Over the course of the trip, we used petty cash in order to relieve some of the financial stress on our participants. For example, our budget given to us from the ASB Lead Team did not cover meals on the road. In turn, the BLI Small Grant gave us the ability to pay for some of the meals on the road. We were able to fully subsidize a group lunch at a B-B-Q joint in Texas. In addition, we had to make the majority of our own meals while we were at camp. This required us to buy a substantial amount of groceries, given that we had to make meals for a group of 13. Not only did the grant help us to buy these groceries, but also it provided the opportunity to bond over team meal making. As a group, we also fundraised an additional $300 in order to reach our maximum petty cash fund amount. Thank you so much for helping us monetarily. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for the BLI community in the future!

Solar Spring Break

On behalf of the University of Michigan’s Solar Spring Break team, I would like to thank you for the BLI Small Grant that helped our group successfully complete an alternative spring break project on the reservation of the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians near San Diego, California. During our weeklong stay, eleven University of Michigan students partnered with the non-profit GRID Alternatives to install a total of forty-five solar panels on three different family homes on the reservation. At our debriefing session some of the words used to describe the week were “transformative,” “humbling,” “enriching,” “challenging,” and “empowering.” We agreed that the hands-on learning experiences we had on alternative spring break were exceptional opportunities to learn not only technical skills, but also to develop personally.

Our team experienced growth in three main areas:

1. Collaboration- It was important for our team to learn to work with cultural differences on the reservation and to be respectful that we were working in someone else’s home. To view the project as a cooperative effort between homeowner and students was pivotal in forming relationships with the community. Skills learned from collaborating with the nonprofit were also important lessons for future ventures.

2. Leadership- There was ample opportunity for all team members to act as leader throughout different portions of the trip. It helped all team members learn about what their strengths are and in what situations to implement them. We all grew when we were able to realize that part of being a leader means knowing when to act and when to uplift and support others who may have a different skillset. The nonprofit that we worked with helped empower us to be leaders in solar panel installation, but also empower community members to get involved as well.

3. Humility- During our stay on the reservation we were guests and had to act accordingly. Through efforts to reach out to the community we were able to form meaningful relationships. We were humbled by the strength, knowledge, and genuine nature of the Native Americans with whom we worked.

We appreciated the opportunity to grow as students by tackling the complex social problems related to the environment and low-income communities. We realize that our efforts would not have been made possible without the support of the Barger Leadership Institute, and for that we are sincerely grateful. We are always willing to come in and speak more to the faculty and students at the University of Michigan about our experiences and the ways that we believe they have enriched our education. You may find more pictures of our experience at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gridalternatives/sets/72157642564246643/page2/