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Spring Break at Middle Way House

During spring break 2019, we traveled to Bloomington, Indiana to spend a week working with Middle Way House, an organization dedicated to working with survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. Among the work that Middle Way House does, such as provide temporary 90-day housing, semi-permanent 2 year housing, and other services to survivors, one of their more unique programs is their after-school Youth Program.

We worked in the Youth Program from Monday March 4th to Friday March 8th, from 3:30pm to 8:30pm. Each day we would arrive at around 3:20pm and put our coats and belongings away, before going to the program room where we spent most of our time. We would wait for the HeadStart students to arrive, and when they did we often started the time with them by playing Just Dance 4 on the Wii or running around outside on the playground. As the different buses dropped students off throughout the first hour, we engaged the kids by playing games, dress-up, doing piggy-back races, or reading stories while we waited for snack time at 4:30. Snack time was always followed by some programming, which ranged from art club, science club, techie time, cooking club, dance club, and even building healthy relationships club. We were able to help out with programming, which was mainly run by Indiana University students who are regular volunteers. The kids in the Youth Program love programming time because they got to do different activities each week. After programming we had homework time, which was probably the most difficult hour each day. The Youth Program currently has kids ranging in ages from 3 years old to 14 years old, and the difference in engagement for homework time was a challenge. Obviously, the 3 and 4 year olds did not have homework, and the majority of kids under age 11 did not have homework either because elementary schools in the area have been moving away from required homework. During homework time, for these students, we were supposed to read to them, or if they could read, have them read to us. Even with older kids who enjoy reading, being forced to spend an hour reading when you could be playing with all the awesome toys that the Youth Program has could be kind of difficult. We did find that it was rewarding to engage the kids with reading, however, and be able to then transition to educational games afterward to finish out homework time. After homework time, there was more free time and sometimes even more programming, and then the kids would begin to be picked up from the program. By the end of each day, we would be completely tired, but satisfied with the fun we were able to provide for the kids.

We had hoped before the week began that we would be able to gain a better understanding of the impact of domestic violence, to learn about how a domestic violence shelter supports survivors through programming, and better grasp how to return to campus with plans to bring awareness about this issue back to our communities. We were definitely able to recognize the impact of domestic violence, mainly through the behavioral patterns and engagement differences with kids at the Youth Program. The programming we worked on during the week was both engaging, educational, and age appropriate, which is really important for kids who have been affected by domestic violence, who are sometimes unable to just be kids. Finally, we were able to return to campus with a drive to bring this issue back to our communities. We are hoping to have a dialogue event about domestic violence awareness, possibly with a panel, but that is still in the works.

One challenge we encountered was leaving at the end of the week. We knew from the very beginning that we would need to make it clear to the kids that we would not be returning after the end of the week. Even though we discussed this issue nearly every day in reflection, when the time came to begin saying goodbye to kids, it was hard not to get sad ourselves. The staff at the Youth Program really helped us out, reminding the kids gently but firmly to say goodbye to us, and to thank us for coming. Most of the kids left without incident or being really upset. It was difficult to leave the program and recognize we probably would not be going back and that we may never see any of those kids again. However, given that we were able to spend our time on spring break productively by playing with those kids every day, we hoped that we were able to have a net positive impact for the organization, while also learning a lot ourselves to bring back to our lives here on campus.

The leadership skills of each member of our trip shone through when we were faced with challenges at site. Before the trip, we recognized that we all had different starting places of background knowledge, that we would have to spend a lot of time reflecting on our experiences, and that if we needed help, we would have to lean on the staff, who have much more experience than we did. When faced with challenges, we worked with each other to solve them, and when we weren’t able to find solutions, we enlisted staff at the Youth Program to help. Every night, we reflected on that day’s experiences, usually discussing at length any of the challenges we had faced that day. As the week went on, we found ourselves developing and growing as leaders and volunteers within the organization, learning how to tackle challenges and dilemmas with less worry than at the beginning of the week. This growth and development was invaluable for the first hand experience it provided us to be able to bring back to Michigan.

By Meredith Days

Nicaragua Mission Trip

This spring break—with the aid of a BLI small grant—I travelled to Nicaragua to help
install electricity in a school building. I went with the Nicaragua Mission Team from my local church. The trip was intergenerational: five of us were in our twenties and thirties, and the other five were in their 60s and 70s and had been to Nicaragua several times before. The school we worked with was located in the small community of Quebrada Honda in Pantasma. The trip was challenging, meaningful, and perspective-giving. After arriving at the airport and spending a night in Managua, our team drove for four hours, zig-zagging through beautiful mountains to reach the small town in Pantasma where we would sleep every night. The conditions were far from luxurious—we definitely left our “creature comforts” at home. We all slept on mats on a floor and our shower—which was in a separate building—consisted of cold water and a dirt floor. We had to be careful to not drink the tap water, as it contained bacteria that we were not accustomed to.

Monday through Thursday, we woke up at 7 AM and—after driving about 30 minutes to get to Quebrada Honda—worked for several hours installing electricity in the school. The community had asked us to do the electrical work in three out of its four classrooms, and—after initial prayers and dances given by the community—we began measuring conduit, cutting wires, and drilling holes in the walls and ceilings. Though we had had two orientation sessions before leaving in Ann Arbor, I was mostly learning how to do the work through doing it. At the end of the day Thursday, we tested our work with a rented generator and—after some trouble- shooting—confirmed that the lights and outlets were functional. Now the community must wait for the government to run electricity to their community so that they can use what we installed.

Throughout the trip, our team focused on the concept of serving through relationship. Through morning devotions and evening reflections, we continuously asked ourselves, “What does serving through relationship look and feel like?” We wanted to prioritize the community’s needs, hopes, and dreams. In this way, we strove to serve through partnership instead of imposing our own goals and culture. We recognized that the community would benefit from the electricity—not us—and wanted the community to feel a sense of ownership of the project. This translated into us sometimes stepping aside to let community members participate in the drilling, taping, and measuring. The community members were eager to help, and at one point I was teaching children how to twist and tape wires to assemble a functional electrical outlet.

I am taking Spanish for my language requirement and enjoyed having an opportunity to practice speaking the language. I spent much time with the children in the community, who followed me around and constantly asked if I could play ball or frisbee with them. The children were gracious and patient with me as I sometimes struggled to construct sentences or pronounce their names incorrectly. Though I could not understand all of what they said, I understood much of it. Communicating with these young people from a different culture brought me much joy.

The intergenerational aspect of the trip was particularly meaningful to me. As a college student, I spend most of my time interacting with people my age. This trip was a rare opportunity for me to befriend and spend quality time learning from another generation. Each evening, we reflected as a team. We asked ourselves, “What moments from today surprised you or brought you joy?” and, “What moments challenged you?” These questions led to honest conversations about our goals and experiences and enabled us to encourage and support each other through challenges. We realized that serving through a model of relationship also meant supporting each other as team members.

At the end of the trip, a nearby community invited us to visit and requested that we build two new classrooms for them. This request made us think: Should we grant this request for this new community, even though we are not as comfortable building classrooms as we are installing electricity? Or should we continue to build a relationship with the community in Quebrada Honda, a community we already know and love?

 

These are ultimately questions that the Nicaragua Mission Team will have to wrestle with, and I hope to be a part of the discussion.

 

By Miriam Ernest

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