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 site leader Michelle Shoshiev, a junior majoring in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience.
My junior year of high school, I bravely signed up for a habitat for humanity trip in San Antonio, Texas with a group of people I had never met before. I was very nervous because I had done little to no service learning prior to that trip, and as a very shy person, I didn’t know if and how I would make any friends that week. My nerves quickly diminished as I realized that volunteering and learning with this group of people would make for one of the best weeks of my life. That week came and went, but those friendships and what I learned stayed with me. Upon coming to the University of Michigan, I wanted to find something that would give me that exact same experience. I found that through the MAC-ASB program.
I applied my sophomore year after I heard many positive reviews from the girls in my sorority who had gone the year prior to that. I was astonished at how many different types of trips there were: Animal Welfare, Health and Disabilities, Native American Justice, and so many more! I decided to go for the Health and Disabilities trip that year because I was interested in the medical field and had never volunteered in that type of setting before. I didn’t know what I would be doing or where I was going, only that it was health-related. Soon after the interview, I found out that I was chosen as a participant, and that we would be volunteering our time at Neumann Family Services in Chicago. This is a non-profit organization that works toward helping adults with a range of mental disabilities learn skills to live on their own and assimilate back into the community. I was very excited as I want to become a psychiatrist and hadn’t had exposure to this type of community before.
During our meetings leading up to the trip, my group discussed issues surrounding mental health in the nation and what we would be doing on the trip to help that specific community in Chicago. We figured we would be working with the adults in the classrooms, which we quickly realized was not the case. On our first day, we were given our assignments for the week. About five of us were in a room inputting information into a computer, and the rest of us did various paperwork tasks. I do have to admit, we left that day feeling discouraged about the rest of the trip. After the next day, we understood just how important it was that we completed what was asked of us.
Our over-arching goal for the trip was to help the organization stay running and help the adults in the organization. We got caught up in the idea of interacting with the adults and seeing how the organization ran first-hand. What we needed to think about was how us helping out behind the scenes would impact Neumann. Since it is a non-profit organization, their funding was pretty low. They also needed to keep a lot of paperwork on file for government and tax purposes. With the 13 of us, we managed to plow through a lot of filing, copying, and organizing that otherwise would have never been completed. This was all crucial to helping the organization keep running and therefore helping the adults within the organization. It took us working about 7-8 hours a day for a week to finish all of this, and the workers there were so grateful that we came to help them out. I couldn’t imagine an employee having to do this work on top of whatever other job(s) they had to complete. We returned each day after that with a smile on our faces ready to tackle whatever job they gave to us.
At night we discussed how the day went and any frustrations that we had. One thing that we all were bothered by was the lack of support from the government. It is sad that great organizations like Neumann do not have a lot of funding to keep running and have to do a lot of work to stay open. It is no wonder that there are problems with assimilating those with mental disabilities back into the community because there aren’t many places like Neumann.
While we did talk about our thoughts and different eye-opening experiences that we had, we also explored Chicago in our spare time. We went into the city and ice skated, went to the Lincoln Park Zoo, and even went over to one of our participant’s house in the suburbs to watch The Sound of Music. Countless memories were made, and I could not thank my MAC-ASB group enough for giving me the best spring break I’ve ever had. We are all still very close today and play euchre together just like we did every night back on our trip. After I got home from Chicago, I realized that I didn’t want my ASB experience to be over just yet. I wanted to give back what my site leaders gave to me, so I decided to apply to be a site leader. Thankfully I was given the position and here I am today, writing this blog and anxiously waiting for next semester to roll around so I can hopefully lead just as good of a trip. ASB helped me grow, learn, and laugh until my stomach hurt. I could not be more thankful for being a part of the program.