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 Lead Team member and former site leader, Mel Thompson.
When I applied to Alternative Spring Break my sophomore year, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I only knew that I did not want to spend my spring break in the stereotypical college way, I wanted to do something more meaningful. Volunteering for a week with ASB sounded like a great opportunity to me. I was not too sure what service-learning meant, and I definitely could not tell you anything about social justice. I nervously sat through the interview and excitedly opened the e-mail telling me I had been picked to go on a trip to Cranks Creek, Kentucky to engage with the issue of rural poverty. Little did I know then that that e-mail was the start of an experience that would connect me with an amazing community and introduce me to some of my best friends in college.
When I got into the minivan at the beginning of spring break I remember thinking that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I barely knew these people and now I was going to spend a week with them in the middle of nowhere. However, by the end of the first day I knew the week was going to be something special. Being that we were, in fact, in the middle of nowhere, we did not have much to do in our free time besides bond with each other. After days of helping to deconstruct homes so that they could be rebuilt and working to build a homeless shelter (I finally got to use power tools), we would play intense card games and talk about anything and everything. We made many trips to the one Walmart in town and also ventured to a restaurant with some of the best milkshakes I’ve ever had. These once strangers somehow became people that I felt like I could talk more honestly about myself and experiences with than even my closest friends. Our days were filled with so much learning about rural poverty and how these people function in a place without many resources, and after sharing these experiences with my group it was hard not to feel close to them.
Coming back to Ann Arbor after our week together, I felt both refreshed and sad. I felt sad because the week was over and I knew it would be hard to continue those close relationships on campus when everyone is so busy. But I felt refreshed because I had found a community of people on campus that were as passionate about social change as I was. I knew that I did not want my time with this organization to be over so I applied to become a site leader for the next spring break.
I was lucky enough to be a site leader with someone that I had met on my first ASB experience. We loved our time learning about rural poverty but we decided we wanted to learn about a different issue; we led a trip to Chicago for the topic of youth and education. We had had such an amazing time on our first trip and were so excited to be able to help others have the same experience. Being a site leader brought with it its own challenges, but it also connected me to the ASB community in a larger way. Weekly meetings with the other site leaders and lead team members gave me a place to be more consistently connected with people who cared about similar things.
My week in Chicago bonded the group so much that it was hard to believe we were once strangers. I was consistently amazed by the insights and openness displayed by my group, and was constantly surprised that I was entrusted to guide them on this experience. As with the year before, I found myself to be so relaxed and comfortable in an environment where everyone accepts you as you are and does not expect you to be anything else. That has been one of the most important parts of ASB for me, and that is what led me to apply for a position on Lead Team.
Rounding out my ASB experience by being a part of Lead Team has meant more to me than I ever would have imagined. I am so happy that I have gotten so close with the other members of LT because they have taught me so much about what it means to be an active citizen and how to engage with social justice issues. They have become some of my best friends on campus and the ASB community has truly formed me into who I am today. ASB has supported me in my growth from someone who didn’t know what social justice was to someone who is doing an Americorps program after graduation.
To everyone that I have met throughout my ASB journey, thank you for always letting me be myself and for constantly supporting me and challenging me to be better. I will always value my time spent with ASB and everything that it taught me.