Every week, members and partners of the Michigan Active Citizens Alternative Spring Break (MAC-ASB) community will share their stories through our blog, which is a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB trips. This week, we bring an experience from Paul Ilkka, a senior on Site Development (MAC-ASB’s Leadership Team), majoring in Neuroscience and History.
When I first decided to apply for ASB my sophomore year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My decision was motivated by recommendations from friends, who told me that I would learn a ton, as well as my strong desire to not spend a week at home. Once I began the application, I started to realize that my expectations might not quite line up with reality. During the interview process, I felt overwhelmed, despite the relaxed nature. I didn’t know what social justice was. I wasn’t totally sure I understood the concept of service-learning either. Meanwhile, I felt like everyone else at my table had beautiful answers; they were much more prepared than I was.
Somehow I got lucky and was placed on a Healthcare and Disability trip. The pre-break meetings we had completely transformed my perceptions. My site leaders lead engaging and thoughtful discussions that challenged my preconceived notions of what the term “disability” meant and the reality of what life was like for people of differing abilities. I was also introduced to the concept of intersectionality for the first time. Never before had I seriously considered how education or a person’s living situation might impact their health and vice versa.
All of the training and education we received still didn’t fully prepare me for the trip; there is no way to grasp these ideas without some kind of first hand experience. The week I spent at Neumann Family Services was both difficult and enlightening. At first it was hard for me to comprehend the reality of what the clients at Neumann were facing. As someone with an immense amount of privilege, I initially struggled with my desire to help and with the guilt I felt. Talking with the workers and clients of Neumann helped me to begin to reconcile my mixture of feelings. This week helped to transform me from someone with a desire to help, but with a major lack of education, into someone who now wants to take the time to understand the social ills that face our society, and therefore have a better grasp on what I can actually do to help people, and not just what I think is helpful.
The decision to join Alternative Spring Break has by far been one of the best choices of my life. This organization sparked a passion I never knew I had and has inspired to me to always try to learn more and further progress on my path toward active citizenship.