Alternative Breaks

Inspiring campus to enact social change locally, nationally, and globally

 
 
 
 
 
 

January 6th

2014

I have been looking forward to going on Alternative Winter Break since I got accepted in the spring time.  I was excited when we were originally supposed to Macon, Georgia and work on creating bedrooms for children who terminally ill. I was even more excited when there was a change in the plans that was then allowing us to travel to Silver Springs, Florida would work in an animal sancuary.  Unfortunately, I did not know I was about to embark on a never ending bus ride.  After almost eighteen long hours on the bus, two stops in different states for McDonald’s, a bus driver change, fuel stop, and a shocking realization that there was three more hours until Silver Springs, we finally made it.

I speak for all fourty – four participants when I say we could not be more thankful that we got to leave the giant snow storm behind in Normal for the bright sunshine of Florida.  Stepping off the bus was like stepping out into a new world; we haven’t seen sunshine in what felt like forever.  Immediately everyone was changing into shorts and hitting the sand volleyball court or exploring our new surroundings in the middle of the Ocala National Forest. (Which happens to be the second oldest national forest in the United States).  Not long after arriving, we found out about the local wild life that freely roams.  Among Coyotes, snakes, and gators, we were warned about the family of bears.  These aren’t just seem occasionally, but on a regular basis, which has been making some of the girls lose a little bit of sleep and the boys walking us to our cabin as soon as it gets dark.

Paster Dave and his family have been more than incredible and it is only day one of our stay.  They have been doing amazing things for this community and I simply cannot wait to finally be able to start service tomorrow and get my hands dirty!

March 25th

2013

Argyle, Texas

Sorry for the late response, we were swamped throughout our week in Argyle, TX. From Sunday afternoon until Friday morning, 46 members from Illinois State met with 12 other members from University of North Texas. We worked with a total of 80 children and adults with special needs. We were all distributed into different cabins, each of which held 8 campers. My cabin had children ages 7-13 with various mental and physical disabilities. An average day consisted of waking up around 6:30 a.m. to get the kids ready for the day. This was challenging because 4 of the 8 needed help showering, changing, and toileting. We would then eat breakfast at 8:00. Eating breakfast required special attention because some of our campers had food allergies. Two of my campers needed puréed food and also needed help eating. After breakfast, we would head to our first activity for the day. We usually had around 3 to 4 activities each day. Activities were very unique because they involved things that some of the kids couldn’t have a chance to do anywhere else. This camp had horseback riding, a ropes course, sports, arts and crafts, and fishing. Lunch would be directly after an activity and a rest time followed lunch. Another activity would be in the afternoon followed by a dinner. Throughout the day activities, we would be with one other cabin and its campers. The nighttime activity was special because it included all of the other campers in the camp. Nighttime activities consisted of an egg hunt, a carnival, and a dance. Bedtime was around 9:30.
Before this ASB, I had not previously worked with anyone with special needs. Some of the other people in our ASB group were in the same position. It was frustrating at times, because most of us rarely had time to think about our own needs. Our specific group needed attention most of the time. We had a few campers in our group that would off; since they were non-verbal, we had to always make sure they were by our side.
I will split this reflection into three specific words when relating it to how this became a positive experience; teamwork, patience, and respect. This trip was especially unique because we were expected to work with 6 people we had just met and take care of 8 children that had various mental and physical disabilities. We managed to find our place in helping the children get through the day, without someone specifically leading us. Everyone was always asking what needed to be done next and we couldn’t have gotten through the week without great teamwork.
“Patience is a virtue.” This quote was running through my head the entire day whenever my patience grew thin. The children were often difficult. Sometimes, trial and error would be needed to find what worked best for the kids, which is frustrating in itself. But this week taught me to understand how patient I really was and how patience rubs off on other people. Throughout the week, I would think, “Why am I really here?” While reflecting on last week, I realized how much I focused on the little things in life. I also realized own selfish tendencies. This trip made me think about myself a little less, and I really had a chance to focus on others; exactly how a volunteer trip should be. I honestly didn’t get that out of the last ASB trip I was on.
Making the campers feel like they belong was one of the main goals this camp wanted to pursue. In the real world, they are always told that they “can’t”. Rejection is a common theme. But a camp like this showed that you can and acceptance is possible. Respect for the campers was what really mattered.

March 24th

2013

Camp Summit

As I sit here staring at my computer screen, my mind begins to flood with all of the vivid memories, raw emotions, and empowering experiences that I shared with the 45 other ASBers on our trip to Camp Summit in Argyle, Texas. Words cannot even begin to describe this incredible trip, but I will do the best I can in this blog!

We arrived at Camp Summit early Saturday morning and were more than excited to get our day started (part of that excitement came from getting off the bus we were on for 14 hours). After leaving the bus and getting our luggage, we got settled in our cabins, which housed about six counselors and eight campers. For the rest of the day, and majority of Sunday, we went through orientations and introductions to the camp. Everything we learned seemed easy enough to do… Little did we know…

After ending our final orientations on Sunday, we started preparing for our campers! Each camp was given a “cheat sheet” that described our camper’s disabilities, incentives, and what they needed assistance with. My cabin had girls aged 14-22 with disabilities that included Down’s Syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, profound cognitive and developmental disabilities, attention deficit/ hyperactive disorder, cerebral palsy, and Angelman syndrome. Nearly everyone needed assistance showering and changing/putting on clothes, four campers needed complete assistance using the bathroom (three used depends), two needed complete assistance eating, and every one of us were prepared to have a great time at Camp Summit. The campers came in starting at 4:00pm that day, which also marked the beginning of an incredible week for me.

Our regular day schedule looked like this:

The 7:00AM wakeup call did not get easier as the week went on.

The activities we did were always pretty fun and different. We did horseback riding, a ropes course, fishing, arts and crafts, we had a dance at the end of the week, we did scavenger hunts, had a carnival night, and dressed up in costumes. Early in the week, our cabin was paired with a boys cabin (wink, wink) which was very exciting for the majority of our girls. They claimed boyfriends pretty quickly.

What this daily schedule does not include was how often we needed to tend to our girl’s needs, we were responsible for 24/7 care. Making sure everyone had clean depends, keeping schedule of who had bowel movements, always making sure no one was missing, and staying enthusiastic so our campers were enthusiastic proved to be very exhausting. My cabin also used our rest time as a time to shower and bathe the majority of our campers; this simplified their nighttime routine. After showers, some of our campers took naps and others colored or did sidewalk chalk with me and the other counselors. We also had some campers that had difficulty sleeping in the evening, which meant the counselors would not be sleeping either.

Although the 7:00AM wakeup call did not get easier, our days certainly did. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of the counselors of Kiowa cabin. We worked together cohesively, and were able to overcome difficult obstacles (for example: our cabin supervisor was fired halfway through the week). This was also a very selfless and altruistic experience for everyone on this trip. Our campers were our first concern and I was entirely immersed in their needs.

This was a truly amazing experience and I believe myself and the 45 other people on this trip have had our lives touched and changed by the amazing campers we were so privileged to meet. They will be remembered because of what wonderful people they are, not by their disability. I will miss my campers, Sydney, Carrie, Sarah, Abby, Paige, Sydney, Annie, and Madi.

March 20th

2013

I’ve been back for a few days now and I forgot that I need to write a follow-up post. Everyone made it home safe with the exceptions of a few people who are now sick. Nashville, TN was an absolute blast. I now want to go to grad school in Nashville. Every restaurant/bar had a live band playing inside. It was country music of course. I’m not a big fan of country but after visiting Nashville, it has grown on me. You could hear the music from the street. It was 70 degrees out and just a perfect day to go get lost in Nashville. We visited a few shops, got some food, listened to some music, and just enjoyed our last trip together.

The night before we left we had our final reflection group and a bonfire. The reflection group was one of the funnest meetings I believe. I noticed another school would be staying on the grounds with us. They asked if they could use our fire to cook dinner and of course I told them it wouldn’t be an issue. I just told them to keep it lit for us. Our reflection groups ran till about 11pm and as I was approaching the fire, I noticed two kids walking around the corner with buckets. I myself am a pyromaniac and love having bonfires. It’s one of my favorites activities to do over the spring/summer. I approached the fire and there was nothing remaining but a few embers. I had started that fire around 5 pm and was devastated when I realized our last night would be a disaster. I quickly sprang into action and once again saved the day. It took some time but I got it burning again just in time. Everyone was pleased to hear of the good news and marshmallows were roasted. I had too many people offering to make me a s’more for just being so awesome. I felt like a king!!!

The group slowly began to fade out little by little and only a few of us remained around the fire. I tended to the fire all night long and with the few of us who remained, we just sat and talked for hours. I believe we were up til around 4:30 am. I saw this as a perfect ending to the best Spring Break I have ever had. The arrival back to ISU was full of some laughs, tears, and many goodbyes. I know that many of us have remained in touch and plan on getting together pretty frequently. I can’t wait for our post-service and the event “Encore”. It will be fun to see everyone back on campus and see the group as a whole. I know that many of the students have already began applying for Alternative Winter Break. I myself can’t because I will be graduating in December. There is a chance that I may be able to go as a trip advisor if I decide to go to grad school at ISU and my application is accepted. I really hope that it is accepted because I don’t want this to be the only experience like this I’ll ever have. I wish I would have done more of these trips sooner.

I would highly recommend everyone applying for Alternative Break trips. At first I was a little wary of it, but after what I have just experienced, I’m glad I made the decision and wouldn’t have changed a thing. The friendships made I know will last for time to come and it truly was an experience I will always remember. I feel that I really have played my part by giving back to the environment and also by helping to share my environmental knowledge with many of other students. Many have decided to make life changes and I have as well. I am sad that this will be my final blog post but all good things must come to an end and this couldn’t have ended any better.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed it and if you are a student, you will consider applying for an Alternative Break trip.

Take care y’all

Matt Noehre

Unfortunately, it was time for this trip to come to an end. I had such a great time this week getting to know 45 new people, as well 31 students and 2 teachers. It is such a great feeling to know that I have impacted the lives of so many students, as well as other people who I have met. I came into this trip feeling nervous, excited, and a little bit anxious because I did not know what to expect, and I am leaving this week feeling confident, looking forward to what the future brings me. After the experiences in the classroom, I feel ready for my future career in education, and know that I can and will make a difference in peoples lives. I am fortunate to have had an awesome teaching partner this week. She truly helped me along the way on this journey, and I know that without her, my week would not have been as successful as it was. As I wrap up my final blog, I am so thankful to have met all of these new people who I now consider  family.  We had a great week, and this experience is something I will always cherish, and I will definitely miss being around these people everyday. I would like to end this week with a quote that sums up how I feel, “You have to go wholeheartedly into anything in order to achieve anything worth having.” :)

March 18th

2013

In my dreams they do..

It has now been one full day (and then some) since the Royal Purple bus from Birmingham, AL arrived in the Bone Student Center loading zone. I will admit I have been putting this last blog off since the minute we left Atlanta, GA. I thought that writing this blog meant that Spring Break was over. As much as that may be true, what I took away from that short week can never possibly be finished.  In seven days, I made forty-five new friends that practically feel like family. Together we impacted almost 800 students in two schools, visited two incredible states, and saw a gigantic growth in ourselves.

Prior to this Alternative Break experience, I was your average college kid. However, I had a growing passion for people.  Unfortunately, I never really put that passion to good use.  When I found out about Alternative Spring Break I thought that it was something I might like to do and maybe even be good at.  I never in my wildest dreams thought it would have the effect that it did.  By the last days of break, I was changed for the better.  I learned what it takes to be a great teacher, one that students really look up to.  I learned what it takes to be a good friend and a better listener.  Most importantly, I learned how to be a better version of myself.

Now that we are all home and trying to dive back into our school work, I can assure you that I am struggling.  Not a minute goes by that my fourth grade students aren’t on my mind.  I continually wonder what they are doing, if they are okay, and where they are going to end up next Fall since one of the elementary schools is closing after this school year.  I hope with all my heart their new school will allow them to spread their wings the way working in their school allowed me to spread mine. I pray these children grow up and continue their education to become what they want to be.  In my dreams they do.  In my dreams they are successful doctors, lawyers, and fire fighters.

Birmingham, AL gave me a lot of great things.  However, Alternative Spring Break 2013 was only a small step in what is to come for me.  I plan on engaging in much more service from now on and I encourage everyone else to do so. All it takes is one person with a passion to ‘make that change’!

March 18th

2013

So it’s over, what a week.  I reflect back on to the start of it all, way back on reveal.  I had so much excitement that one of my best friends was picked along with me to be involved with ASB 2013.  I was displeased to say the least that we did not get picked for Tennessee, Carolina, or even Texas.  It took a couple of weeks for it to sink in, and when I talked to several people the reiterated the importance of commitment, and also pointed out that some of the best experiences in my life have been by whims, and times that I get out of my comfort zone.  At that point I was all-in, to be the best adviser, participant, and friend that I could, making all the difference in my attitude!  It was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Have you ever made of list of all your expectations for a trip, week, and event?  I do, kind of a mental one, but that list was exceeded 1000-fold by day 1.  So here is my list of things that I accomplished in a week:

  • Made a difference-In my students, teachers, and me.
  • Learned- What it takes to be a teacher, kid, Civil Rights, and myself.
  • Meet, Know, Love-Some of the most amazing people!!
  • Growth-As an individual, leader, and student.
  • Ate- Some of the best home cooked, pbj’s, mac and cheese ever (Mac Mary’s Atlanta)!
  • Vulnerable- Took off the armor, and let me be known.

This blog isn’t for my fellow participants, because they know what it was like.  It is for the student, grad student, or faculty that is on the fence about going out for ASB.  You get to meet some the most extraordinary people in a traumatic bonding experience, that I know I can count on these people for my lifetime.  Case in point on the bus ride down almost nobody got comfortable enough to sleep, but on the bus ride back home you couldn’t find anyone awake (let alone open space on the floor).  So get involved, step outside, and change the world!

March 18th

2013

Thankful

I felt nervous, excited, and anxious getting on the bus last Saturday. We drove about ten hours and arrived in Birmingham, Alabama Sunday morning. I didn’t know it yet but I was about to embark on a truly life changing experience. After teaching two first grade classrooms about their roles in their families, their needs and wants in life and how to achieve those needs and wants, did I soon realize that I was exactly where I needed to be in that point of my life. Those children taught me how important it is to give back to those who really need help. My partner and myself encouraged those children and made sure they knew that they were significant. Those children could be our future leaders and they needed to hear that they have a place in this country and world.

I couldn’t have asked for a better teaching partner. We were connected in our presentation all four days. I feel like we motivated each other and always took a risk in teaching the children above and beyond what they needed to learn. Through teaching in Birmingham I came to the conclusion that all forty-six of the individuals on this trip did their part to reach one inspiring goal. If we only got through to one child in those four days it would still have been worth it. I know that isn’t the case though. I know we touched the lives of all of those children. Knowing that, this is more than I could of ever asked for on this spring break.

I am thankful that I stepped out of my comfort zone.  I am thankful that I got on the bus alone and left that bus with friends. I am thankful I met forty-five other people willing to journey with me. I am thankful for the opportunity to open up the minds of those children. I am thankful we started with a goal and ended with a success. I am truly thankful.

Some quotes that I think embody what this trip was really about:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”  Anonymous

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”   Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.”  Samuel Smiles

“A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.”   Henry Adams

March 17th

2013

Does This Have to End?

I am unsure what my expectations for my Alternative Spring Trip really were, but what happened went beyond my wildest expectations. I traded in my spring break for an amazing opportunity to go to Birmingham Alabama to work with Junior Achievement, a program which I have never heard of. I was overwhelmed with the task I was given and if I would even do well teaching fifth graders about material I am not even very familiar with. At first looked at by skeptical eyes; the children opened up to me and taught me so much about myself I did not even know. Although they struggled with some concepts, each student worked hard and reached out for help in order to meet the successes of the program. With each passing day, I learned one more thing about each of my 35 students and they learned just a little bit more about me in return. Fifth graders are at a certain age where some do not like to show affection or appreciation but by the fourth and final day I could see how much they have changed and grown into mature and confident adults. One of the biggest changes was when we asked children what their dream job would be: we got answers from President of the United States, a football player and shop owners.  Each student had their own dream in mind and the skills we taught them will facilitate their goals into being a reality. I truly look forward to the bright future these children have and all the successes they will surely reach.

One of the most rewarding moments of the trip was out fifth grade graduation ceremony. We compiled all four fifth grade classes at the elementary school and I got to see more of the school as we journeyed down to the gym so we could all share this moment forever. After a few wise words from each Junior Achievement instructor one-by-one we called the students up, had them walk across the stage, shook their hands and handed them their diploma and then they rejoined their class of students. Each student was a little different, some walked with enthusiasm, some with pride and some with pure happiness as they received what will be one of hopefully many diplomas in their future. Although we only had a limited time and will not be in constant contact with the students we taught I will always remember how much they grew and how much they learned and how loving they are.

Although I would have been content spending five days with my students, we traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for a free day to explore the city. No visit to Atlanta is complete without attending the home, church and memorials of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The weather in Atlanta was absolutely gorgeous and everyone cherished the sun and temperature of this historic southern city. After this influential visit, we had options to explore the surrounding areas of Olympic Park. We had many options, such as the Aquarium, Coca Cola Museum, Atlanta Underground Mall, CNN Global Studios and other unique attractions. Just having a couple more hours to spend with my new friends, we took a tour of the CNN studio and then visited the Coca Cola museum where you could try up to 60 different flavors of Coke products from across the world. Unfortunately, this day went by too quickly but just spending time with friends and relaxing was the perfect way to end this amazing spring break.

Alternative Spring Break was one of the greatest opportunities I have ever been able to do. I learned so much about myself from my fellow ISU students, elementary school children and the experiences I went through. Although I am very sad that it is over and I know have to focus on my schooling to finish out the semester strong I know the students in Birmingham have inspired me to be my best self and that my dream job as a Social Worker is not only possibly but enforced that I really want to work with kids for life. Further, I would like to recognize the 45 other students that went on this trip, including the Trip Leaders who made this experience possible and absolutely amazing.

Waking up this morning was weird. I didn’t wake up at the usual time or get dressed in my dirty work clothes. Instead, I got ready for our free day and packed my suitcase.  Seeing a girl’s cabin completely empty and clean was a weird site to see.  10 of us girls lived together for a week and became close, so it was weird seeing everyone packed up.  This was the last time we would wake up in these cabins and with these people, so it was sad to have say goodbye.  We left the For the Kingdom camp site around 9:00am and headed for Nashville, TN. The bus ride took about 3 hours, which went by really fast.

Our bus pulled over next to the Hard Rock Cafe and the first thing we heard was music. Yes, we were finally in Nashville and the weather was beautiful! We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for our free day. We had 5 hours of free time to explore this wonderful city, which was absolutely amazing.  My group ate lunch at a place called, “Rippy’s Rib” and their ribs were delicious! We walked around for a bit and there was music everywhere: on the streets, outside of stores, inside restaurants, just everywhere. It also happened to be the day Kentucky played Vanderbilt in Nashville in the SEC Tournament, so the streets, sidewalks, stores, and restaurants were filled with people. The overall atmosphere in Nashville was fun and happy. There was so much life in Nashville and I love being around such enthusiasm. I hung out with a group of people from our trip, which was nice because I got to know them a little more.  Being able to share this experience with wonderful people was awesome.  Unfortunately, our time in Nashville ran out and we had to head back to Blo-No.

I am so blessed to have been able to participate in another AB trip.  Because I am graduating in May, this was my last trip ever.  I absolutely loved our service, our site, and the people on this trip. I learned so much about our social issue and it really opened up my eyes to seeing the severity of environmental problems.  Before coming on this trip, I didn’t know much about the environment, other than that pollution is bad.  After seeing the amounts of garbage everywhere in the Mississippi River, I felt extremely guilty of the lack of knowledge I had. It makes me angry seeing the amount of garbage we saw, but it makes me sad knowing that this problem extends far greater than the Mississippi River.  I can pretty much speak for everyone on my trip that we hate styrofoam! Pieces of styrofoam were everywhere, to the point where it blended in with the leaves. This is a serious problem. After spending a week cleaning up the Mississippi River, I am motivated to make changes back at school and at home. Now that I have seen first-hand the effects of pollution and littering, I strongly feel that raising awareness about these issues needs to happen. One person cannot change everything, but one person can make a difference.  Working with a group of 45 amazing, talented, and motivated people was absolutely amazing.  I was motivated each day by this group.  I cannot stress enough how great it is to work with people who share the same passion for service because it makes me a better person.  Each person on this trip impacted me in different ways and I thank everyone for that.  This trip was an amazing experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my AB experience.

 
 
 
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Alternative Breaks

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