“Have you heard of Alternative Spring Break? I’m leading a trip, and I think you would really like it!”
Hearing my freshman year Peer Advisor tell me about her experience on the HSSP alternative spring break trip, I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do. She recounted her trip-- how they went to a camp that worked with children with disabilities, and how they were able to help facilitate activities with some kids while they were there. She showed me pictures and let me know how much she enjoyed it. But she also told me that the trip was about a lot more than the week that they spent off campus, and the student org (MAC-ASB) really emphasized values that challenge the typical “volunteer” status.
A few weeks after this conversation, I went through the application and interview process and found myself within a group of HSSP students with a similar mindset, ready to learn and serve others in a way that many of us had never done before. Between our weekly meetings and the frequent gatherings we attended with the whole student org, I learned a lot about disability and social justice, and the ways in which education, service, and reflection were going to play a role in our trip. I was exposed to concepts like volunteerism vs. voluntourism, service-learning, active-citizenship, and plenty of other unfamiliar, yet crucial notions.
Once spring break rolled around and we began our trip, everything we had learned up to that point came together and it all made perfect sense. I discovered a feeling that I wanted to hold onto forever, something that I don’t even think I could put into words (cliché, but true). We had spent months learning about disability as a social justice issue and being able to play even the smallest of roles in helping an organization with a mission to empower children with
disabilities was incredible. Every day, we would work with the camp staff to run field trips for local schools, have a little break for lunch, and then spend a few hours working on a service project to alleviate some of the many responsibilities the staff would have to take on to prepare for the upcoming summer. Even though all I want to do is scream at the top of my lungs about all of the details of our trip, I won’t do that because I want to respect MAC-ASB’s values. I will say, however, that by the end of the trip, I could not imagine spending my spring break any other way and I wanted to do it all over again, so much so that I decided to become a site leader the following year.
Although I applied to become a site leader unsure of whether or not I would be offered a position for the HSSP trip, I was ecstatic to be accepted for the role and to work with the same site I had the previous year. While being a participant taught me a lot about social justice, my understanding of the ways in which it affects people’s daily lives only deepened as a site leader. Working with a new group of HSSP-ers to learn more about disability and its misrepresentation in our society opened up the doors to so many important conversations. My experience at the camp the second time around was even more educational than the first, and I plan to carry the things I’ve learned these past few years with me for the rest of my life.
***Every year, HSSP partners with MAC-ASB to work with an amazing organization that focuses on the social justice issue of Youth Disability, and this past year had an additional trip that focused on Food Injustice, but there are so many other topics that have trips associated with them that I wouldn’t be able to do them all justice in one little post. For more information about MAC-ASB, you can visit their website (https://umichactivecitizens.wordpress.com).