Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Alternative Spring Break

I could not wait for spring break for I was going to Washington, DC. I had applied for the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) which is an option offered here at Hofstra University during spring break.  This was going to be a week’s long volunteering program with the YSOP (Youth Service Opportunities Project). The YSOP is an organization that provides high quality volunteer service-learning experiences in metropolitan areas specifically New York City and Washington, DC. I was even excited more when I learned that one of my mentees from the Global Mentor Program, Jingru Cheng A.K.A Aurora, was also going to DC for the program. This was definitely going to be a bonding experience.

We left for DC on Sunday and did our orientation on Monday morning at around 8:00 a.m. We were informed of our schedules and what was expected of us. Basically, every day we would go to a different service site from about 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. then have a reflection session at about 2:00 p.m.

The first place we visited was ‘IONA’. This is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support people as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging. We helped set up tables for the participants’ lunch, their exercise area and prepared lunch for them. We interacted with the staff there and the participants as well, which was very interesting. We then had our reflection session in the afternoon about our experience earlier in the day.

On the second day we went to ‘A Wider Circle’ which is an organization whose mission is to end poverty for individuals and families. They do so by providing basic needs, education and long-term support. They have different programs, and on that day we helped with the ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ program. This program provides furniture, mattresses, kitchen ware, professional clothing and linens. We sorted out the clothes and linens and put them in the right places. We cleaned the kitchen ware and made everything look presentable. We also helped some clients look for whatever they needed.

The third place we visited was ‘The Capital Area Food Bank’. It is an organization that helps solve hunger and problems such as heart disease, undernutrition and obesity, by delivering healthy food to areas that are hard to reach. On that day, we helped sort meat and put them in separate boxes. We did this in a huge warehouse that was freezing and we had to bundle up for this activity. We then went to a different room where we sorted apples and discarded the bad ones.

Later in the day, we did the most exciting thing during that week. We prepared food at the church and we were going to let in 40 homeless people to share the meal with us. We took their orders, served them and got to interact as we ate. This night changed my way of thinking about homeless people. There are very many stereotypes in regard to the homeless. I realized how similar our lives were because we had numerous stories that we shared and we could relate with one another. Some had really amazing talents. It is just that circumstances force them to be on the streets. A number of them had jobs but they did not earn enough income to enable them afford housing which is quite expensive. Some stayed on the streets as a result of domestic violence and some were just born poor and had no way of making their lives better. It was an eye-opening experience for me. As a matter of fact, the next day, I met one of the ladies I had served dinner and we had a good conversation. I doubt I would have stopped, were it not for the previous night when we got to interact.

On Thursday, the last day of service, we went to Seabury Resources for Aging. It is a non-profit organization that provides free and affordable support in multiple ways for older adults and their families. Some of the services offered include home delivered meals, alternative transportation to medical appointments and home maintenance and clean-up projects. On this day, we went to a senior lady’s house and cleaned it up for her. She gave specific instructions on how she wanted the job done and it was satisfying to see her smile after the cleaning was well-done. We then had our last reflective session where we all shared our thoughts and experiences.

Although most of the time we were at the service sites, we did not fail to fit in some time for fun and exploring the capital. We visited nearly all of the attraction sites in Washington DC and learned most of its history.

I learned a lot during my spring break and I was happy that in my small way, I was helping somebody somewhere. I am glad I got to make new friends and further bond with Aurora, my mentee from China. We had lots of fun and I got to know her even better.

Guest Blogger: Rose Mina, Sophomore, Finance, Global Mentor and international student from Kenya


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