Spring break is a time for self-care and a gentle reprieve from the chaos of university life. Whether you chose to spend it relaxing on the beach or on the couch binge-watching the days away, it was a perfect time to forget about deadlines and responsibilities. However, there are many service related trips sponsored by UF which can make your spring break even more fulfilling. This past spring break I embarked on a trip by Florida Alternative Break (FAB) with a group of students to Asheville, North Carolina.
My time there consisted of community service centered around people experiencing homelessness and poverty. We dedicated our week to volunteering by cleaning up a local river, serving in crisis ministries, and visiting the Veterans Restoration Quarters.
Here’s my takeaway from this experience.
Development of the self and the other
One of the hallmarks of this trip was the profound impact of the developmental work we did while we visited the site. At the veterans’ quarter, a group of volunteers helped renovate an old hotel room into a classroom that will be used for Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings. We also worked on packaging food rations in crisis sizes to distribute to local ministries. By contributing to these vital projects and seeing the positive change resulting from them, I was able to understand social issues in a way I couldn’t before. I underwent an unparalleled personal development just from giving back to others. This personal and social development didn’t just affect me or the site though; it impacted many people in Asheville who rely on these organizations for support. Overall, this wonderful cycle of improvement highlights the need for college students like us to dedicate our time to important social matters, even if our volunteering actions make us go outside of our comfort zones.
An altered perspective
Before this volunteer experience, I never had any personal interaction with individuals who were experiencing homelessness. Society’s tainted image of homelessness used to influence the way I looked at homeless individuals. But the negative stigma surrounding their situation proved to be a false depiction of the reality of their hardships. After listening to some of their stories and having lunch with them, I realized that these people were simply victims of unfortunate circumstances.
My newly altered perception has definitely motivated me to further engage with these types of volunteer organizations and spread awareness.
With the summer break approaching, we could all try to actively advocate for the causes that we care about. Find a cause that inspires you. Find a cause that you want to support with your body and mind and venture out to serve that cause, even if you have to cross the state line to do so. Try to get out of your comfort zone and try to continue propelling positive change in our community. Your efforts combined with the efforts of many others can spark a movement or simply make the day of those who really need it.
All photos courtesy of the author, Jana El Chehouri.