Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pay it forward.

When Kate and Emmy first approached me about joining the ASB group in a “chaperone” capacity, my feelings were mixed. Sure, I’d been on several group service trips in my day, both with church youth groups and at Centre, but that was a long time ago. I remembered sleeping in bunk beds, waking up excruciatingly early, and doing dirty work until it was time to hit the bunk beds again. That was great…as a teenager or as an early twenty something. Now, at the old age of 25 (almost 26), I wasn’t sure if I could handle that again. Nonetheless, I agreed to go along. “Someone did this for me once,” I thought. “I guess it’s time to pay it forward.”

So, plans for Centre’s inaugural Alternative Spring Break trip progressed very quickly as Emmy and Kate started to flex their leadership muscles. Pretty soon there were nearly forty students signed up, and two of us staff members along for the ride. Kate and Emmy wrote a brilliant funding request and were awarded money from the Student Government Association to cover nearly the entire cost of the trip. Megan Noltemeyer, the other staff member, and I met twice with the ASBers before we left. They seemed like a great group, but I still didn’t know what to expect. We kept telling the students to be patient and flexible because we didn’t know much about the type of service we’d be doing or where we were staying or really anything. I was saying that as much to myself as I was to the students.

Before I knew it, the day of departure arrived and all 39 of us were waiting for the bus behind the Campus Center with our week’s worth of luggage. Robert, our awesome driver, and his big purple and pink charter bus picked us up, and that’s where the adventure really began.

When we arrived at the old church (now a community center) in the Fourth Ward of Atlanta, I noticed the shock on some people’s faces at the sight of our accommodations. The women’s sleeping room was a converted sanctuary packed with metal frame bunk beds with plastic mattresses. Some beds were just cots with a thin plastic mat. All of the beds were very close together. Also, the showers were in a portable Rubber Ducky trailer. I could tell this was not at all what people had in mind.

Later that evening, the volunteer coordinator for CCI, Candace, welcomed our group to Atlanta and the community center. Her message gave us some interesting perspective on our living situation. As it turns out, the living quarters (including the shower trailer) were set up as an emergency shelter. These conditions, she explained, are how people are forced to live indefinitely when they lose their homes to natural disasters. At least we were staying there by choice, with people we knew, and only for a week. Dinner that night at the center consisted of leftovers from homeless shelters in Atlanta. We were truly getting a taste of what people go through when they have lost it all. These are the people we set out to serve.

The next morning, our work began. As you’ll read from the other blog entries, the work was intense, often dirty, and changed each day. We had the opportunity to travel all over Atlanta to help with all sorts of projects. Each day was challenging and rewarding in its own way, but some things were the same no matter what. Every evening after work, we met as an entire group to reflect on the day. We shared highs and lows – what was awesome and what was awful – about the day.

I was really impressed with the insights the students shared. In fact, I was impressed with many things about the students on the trip. Some of the work we did seemed small, even menial. That tends to be the case with service projects, especially large, one-time projects. I was worried sometimes that the students would be unhappy and that their attitudes would reflect that. If they were displeased, they did not show that outwardly. They did what was asked of them, and then took initiative to do more.

The group of students was very diverse; some were in sororities and fraternities, some were not; some had lots of friends on the trip, some did not. I was concerned that cliques would form and some people would be left out. Again, I was worried for nothing. The students were inclusive, open to new people, and made friends with everyone. The students slept on their plastic mattresses, showered in a trailer, and got up really early without complaint.

Wow. This has turned into a very long blog entry even though I meant to write only a few paragraphs. I think that’s because I can’t say enough good things about the students and the trip. I had a great time. I was worried about so many things for nothing. Kate and Emmy had everything under control and the students were exceptionally patient and flexible.

In the end, I hope I was able to help facilitate an eye-opening experience for students, like so many people did for me.

Elizabeth Wisman (aka the Nice Aunt)
Centre College
Bonner Coordinator

Friday, March 26, 2010

An ASB Shoutout

There was a quote on the wall of the Sheltering Arms Early Education Center that my group went to that read, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Our trip to Atlanta showed me how true that quote really is.

As the big purple bus pulled away from Centre, I wondered what sorts of things we would be working on in the week to come. I think I expected something like the putting up of big walls of soon-to-be homes or being given a set plot of land to clean up without having to leave a speck of trash behind. I envisioned doing projects that had clear beginnings and ends; projects that we would complete from start to finish. I imagined myself being absolutely covered in dirt and mud from head to toe. I imagined that the place in which we were to stay would be huge and full of hundreds of people. Boy was I wrong.

We didn’t put up any big walls. We didn’t have a specific piece of land to rid of pollution. We didn’t have any projects that had specific beginnings and endings. We didn’t begin a project nor did we really completely finish any old ones. Not once was I completely covered in dirt and mud from head to toe. We stayed in what was once a small church, the cots set up like an American Red Cross disaster relief station. There might have been a hundred people in the place we stayed, maybe.

It was nothing like I imagined.
But it taught me so much more than I ever anticipated.

We cleared a building in a children’s home so that flooring could be put down and more walling could be put up. I had no idea it took so much work to simply clear a building out. My group on the second day helped a woman clear out her old home and move into her new home after it flooded. There was no way she could have afforded a moving service or done it on her own. On the third day, my group went to Sheltering Arms. The women there really impacted me – they stay with and teach the children from the time they are 6 weeks old until they are 5 years old. How incredible is that...? We were able to play with children of various ages and we helped with paperwork during our lunch break/the kids’ naptimes. On the last day of service, we went to a park where we cleaned up as much trash as we could before lunch (we filled a truck bed high with full trash bags), and then we removed an invasive plant species.

Each day, we made small differences that moved each project towards its completion. We weren’t the highlights of each project. We weren’t the ones who put up the walls and we weren’t the ones who completely cleared a section of land. We weren’t the ones who decorated or the ones who laid the foundations. We were the middle ground, the ones whose impact will be undistinguishable from the finished project. We removed debris to allow for further development. We organized and cleaned, things that eventually will need to be organized and cleaned again. We played with children for a day, making an impact on them in small ways that we may never fully realize. No one will be able to look at them and tell us exactly how we changed them. They wouldn’t be able to tell us that as they grow older. But we did make an impact, no matter how small. We cleaned up trash in a park, but trash remained in areas we could not reach or did not have time to clean. We cleared out patches of invasive species, but hundreds of acres were left untouched.

My intention is not to be negative. Completely the opposite, in fact. We made small differences. Great things are made up of small pieces – there can be no great change without small changes along the way. Small changes make all of the difference. We, a relatively small group of Centre students, contributed to the Atlanta community in many, many small and positive ways on this trip. Those small contributions made differences that will continue to pave the way for others to step in and help. What we did may not sound like much when we explain it to others, but we were all a part of something greater than ourselves on this trip. When people ask me how my spring break was, I tell them it was life changing and eye opening, because it truly was. It was quite an experience.

At the end of each service day, we did “highs and lows” and on the last day we also added a “shoutouts” category. So I want to give a “shoutout” to everyone who was on the trip. Each one of you is incredible, thank you for being a part of this trip. I had a blast with you all. Something my parents have always told me about life is that it’s not where you are or what you’re doing; it’s the people that you are with that really make experiences incredible. And that definitely rang true on this trip. So, thank you for that. I feel so grateful for having been given the opportunity to go and help, but I know that I got so much more out of it than I was able to give.

Here’s to Alternative Spring Break becoming an annual event at Centre!

Anne Evans
Class of 2012

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Hi! This is Leah Hill and Tess Gates. We’re both sophomores at Centre, and we decided to come on ASB because we love helping out other people. It’s hard to believe that the week is already over. Today was a beautiful day in Atlanta, and we all spent it working with the National Park Service on the Chatahoochee River. The first half of the day we picked up trash along the river, and the second half of the day we cleared an invasive species from the shore.

It was nice spending our last day here working all together, and the difference that our collective efforts made was impressive. It’s always nice to be able to see tangible evidence that our work really made a difference, and as our big, purple bus pulled away today we were able to look out the window and see a nice, clear river shore free of trash and privet. And, of course the nice, sunny, warm weather was a plus, too!

Leah Hill & Tess Gates
Class of 2012

SB '10

Hey, my name is Henry Lee. I am 18 years old, a freshman at Centre and plan on majoring in financial economics. I decided to join Alternative Spring Break because of a few friends that suggested that I go and I do not regret it one bit. I have always been doing service work and having the opportunity not only to do something productive during my Spring Break, but to also take a trip to somewhere I have not been was too much to ignore. Knowing that this was my Spring Break, I also went on this trip to have some fun and fun was surely had. I mean, where else could I go during Spring Break that would allow me to beat leaves down with an arsenal of stick weapons in a dumpster?

The experiences from this trip will stay with me for a long time and I can’t wait to try and do this again next year. There is so much that I learned from this and there is no luxurious beach that could replace these times. New relationships were formed, and old relationships were strengthened. =]

Henry Lee
Class of 2013

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


After spending an entire day raking ten times our weight in leaves and sanding till our hair was white, it was a nice change for our group to walk into the clean, well-run Sheltering Arms facility. As I’m sure you’ve read by other group’s posts, Sheltering Arms is an affordable daycare service for low-income families that offers a safe, loving, and educational environment for children in disadvantaged situations. At different times during the day, our group members were smoothing the edges on tiles for a building-wide art project, feeding and rocking infants, and chasing after toddling toddlers in an attempt to pre-empt their mischief. It’s interesting to think how even one day of playing with kids and organizing class projects can have a significant impact, a fact that I was able to experience first hand. The 2-3 year-olds in my group spent 50% of their time staring at me trying to figure out what I was doing, 50 % of their time repeating everything I did, and 50 % of their time doing everything I asked them not to (If you don’t understand the percentage total, you have never met an energetic toddler). What was very apparent, however, was that I was something new in the lives of these children, and as such, they took note of and will remember the new dance moves and games that we played for much longer that today. I think it makes a difference for the teachers, employees, and children of Sheltering Arms to see young, college-age, students who want nothing more out of their spring break than the chance to come and volunteer their time and talents to children in difficult situations.To me, that is the ultimate worth of service, giving up a small part of your time completely to the lives of others and letting them know that they are worth the time that you spent.

Heather Walls
Centre College 2011


Today, we assisted a woman named Tammy. Tammy’s house was originally flooded, so we helped to move the final luggage from her old house to her new house. My group (Amy Effinger, Elizabeth Ko, and I) cleaned and rearranged the garage to use for a garage sale. The rest of the group went inside to pack and clean the rooms. While I was in the garage, I realized the importance of history in one’s life. I was amazed at all that Tammy has accomplished, so I knew it was hard for her to let go of some of her possessions. One of my jobs was to pack the toolbox with all of her appliances. Amy, Elizabeth, and I organized the books to two groups: to sell or to keep. Our main goal was to fit all her luggage into one car. When we arrived to her new house, we helped Tammy settle in. Knowing from first hand experience how uncomfortable it is for other people to touch your possessions, I was very thankful Tammy was very welcoming for us to help. While some people stayed inside to help unload the boxes, the others helped with the outside work, such as raking and picking up branches. When we finished helping Tammy unpack her things, we went to a Methodist church to help another group. Some people helped rake the back of the church, and others went upstairs to paint. I went to the front of the church to plant a garden. I had fun getting dirty and close with nature. The weather was great, and I enjoyed the hard work!

Christin Gong
Centre College 2013

The Time of Naps and Clifford

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Inscribed on silver plates, these words adorn the wall of the training center of Sheltering Arms’ headquarters in downtown Atlanta.
A not-for-profit daycare organization, their numerous branches in the Georgia region were our main service destination today. We broke into three groups: two volunteered in Sheltering Arms’ classrooms while the last group co-op’d with Tommy again on landscaping and construction at a site soon to become a rehabilitation facility for addicted substance abusers. My group was one of the two with Sheltering Arms and I was lucky enough to work at two different branches.

The first branch was approximately 20 miles outside of Atlanta and had age ranges from ruddy-cheeked 6-week infants all the way up to self-confident (and surprisingly strong) 5-year-olds. Like most new relationships, both parties were 20% anxious and 80% frightened; however, this soon turned into 100% fun. Without much delay, we were making ramps with wooden blocks and riding our plastic airplanes, helicopters, and cars (the last of which gained the magical ability of flight relatively soon). Unexhausted, we soon moved to a dollhouse and enacted a scene involving a doctor, lawyer, and a dog with a broken leg: anyone over the age of 10 would be envious of these kids’ creative imaginations.

Then we started construction of a Lego castle at whose completion I moved to another section of the classroom while Raeann Stengel took over my group. This next group of kids were certainly my favorite: using little balls and long wrench-shaped pieces (which the balls fit into), we became wizards armed with oddly shaped wands. Soon transfiguration spells were abound (I make quite the cat) and soon the table was full of conjured snacks which dropped from the ceiling as they recounted their favorite scenes from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. One look into their twinkling eyes and carefree, wide-brimmed smiles is enough to make one rethink the purpose of life. Soon our magical adventures turned to age as they all wished to be my age (and stood on their knees in their chairs when cast with the spell) while I wished to halve, at the minimum, my age (and brought my head down so as to only creep above the table). While we joked about our fantasy lives, for the few hours today I spent with the organization, I was back to sharing toys, back to midday naps, back to the clear and pure, the hilarious and unexpected, the defining happiness of every child.

The last part of the afternoon was spent in the same building as the inscription; the headquarters contained an administrative portion, a training center (for new instructors), but also its own daycare facility. For a short amount of time, relatively speaking, myself and Brantley Gunn entertained six or so 1-year-olds, just waking for their well-deserved naps. Just like us college students, every period of shut-eye is followed by a short phase of crinkled faces and unwilling eyes. Soon we fed them their last snack of the day and then explored the enormous book collection, with the likes of Dora and Diego and Clifford The Big Dog. Sheltering Arms’ keeps a constant educational environment; it was amazing to see such high-caliber work from a non-profit. Surely the fun we had with the one-year olds, though, can be summarized into a single quote, “So, when is your daddy coming to pick you up?”

While I’ve rambled on about my own experiences, the work of the instructors was phenomenal, taking every precaution to make these first crucial years of life as close as amazing as possible. And, it goes without saying that the kids were having the time of their lives.

Ibrahim Jadoon
Class of 2013