Community Service, Civic Engagement, and Reflection
On March 15, 2015, 16 students along with two staff advisors took off for a week filled with hard work, community service, and fun as part of Alternative Spring Break 2015 in Rincon, Puerto Rico. The 16 Service Scholars were selected through a very competitive process back in the fall semester and worked tirelessly ever since to prepare.
The group met once a week to come up with fundraising activities and to bond as a team. There were pizza fundraisers at Fire Engine Pizza Company in Bridgeport and Ice Cream Nights at Friendly’s, candy sales and karaoke nights, raffles and gratitude grams, and very generous donations from the University of Bridgeport Student Government Association and the University of Bridgeport Alumni Board.
All of their hard work and dedication paid off when the team finally boarded the bus to the airport early Sunday morning. Sunshine and perfect weather were a welcome change from all of the snow still falling in Bridgeport. After a long bus ride to Rincon, we settled into our home for the week, WEGOGLOBAL’s mission house, only one block from the beach.
Our week of service started bright and early Monday morning with working on projects around the mission house. Some painted a mural, some cleaned windows, some sorted clothes that would be donated later in the week, and others fixed neighborhood bicycles. After lunch, the entire group came together to spend the afternoon building a retaining wall.
Tuesday, we drove up to mountains to spend the day at a men’s drug and alcohol rehab center, Land of Freedom. Some of our group painted a building, some cooked lunch, and others built cages for some of the animals that also live at the center. After lunch, the group spent the rest of the afternoon socializing with the men at the center, playing dominoes and card games, or just talking. The men at Land of Freedom live there for a whole year and for many, visits from groups like ours are the few times they get to spend with those from outside the center.
Wednesday, our group split up, with half going to help out at a local community store by sorting donations, cleaning, and organizing, while the other half went to a home in Rincon to clean the yard and paint the home.
Thursday, we headed back up to the mountains to spend the day at an orphanage, home to 25 kids under 12 who are waiting to be placed in foster care. In the morning we removed their entire fence surrounding their playground and replaced it with a new, safer plastic fence. On Friday, we celebrated all of our hard work with a fun day touring Rincon and with one last group dinner before heading back to Bridgeport.
In addition to our community service projects, the Alternative Spring Break group also spent each night engaged in reflection activities. We shared not only our personal highs and lows of the day but who we are and who we are becoming through both personal and group reflection. Every night a couple of hours are devoted to ‘Sneetchs’ and series of boundary-breaking questions that help the team to really get to know each other, bond, and see the ways that we are all connected.
Each team member received a journal at the beginning of the trip to record their personal reflections and memories. Each also received a stack of “You made a difference in my life today” cards. These small cards are given out either to fellow team members or to people we encounter along our journey as a small token of the impact that they have on the learning experience that is Alternative Spring Break.
Asked what they will remember most from their ASB experience, our students share their reflections below.
This year’s Alternative Spring Break experience has changed the way I perceive others and my behavior towards them and myself. I have learned the importance of not judging others without getting to know them first. You never know what wonderful people you are surrounded by if you do not allow yourself to be open to the possibility.
During our ASB trip to Rincon, Puerto Rico, I’ve come to realize the top priorities in my life: family, friendship, service, and education. My eyes are now open to the power of possibility and the power of love as a tool for healing. We made an impact on love. People of Rincon are surrounded by supportive communities. Therefore, they wear smiles despite the cards they were dealt with in life. That’s inspiring.
I’ve always had a drive for doing for others and giving back to my community through service, but for once I was able to make a difference somewhere outside of my community and that was in Rincon, Puerto Rico. From the day that I received the email saying that I was invited to attend the University of Bridgeport’s ASB 2015 trip, I was eager to see what was awaiting me.
In just one week, my life has changed forever. When visiting the Center for Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation known as ” Land of Freedom,” I was able to interact with those who were recovering from addiction. It was then when I realized that instead of complaining about little things such as too much homework, I should be grateful that I have the opportunity to receive an education because many of these men were unable to do so due to their addiction. We also visited an orphanage, which was a life-changing experience. I take a lot of things for granted, such as having a mother who does everything that she can to make sure that I am ok, while there are children around the world who only have the state to depend on.
ASB allowed me to take the time to think about others and not just myself. My mother always told me, “Raksha, the world doesn’t revolve around you,” and I finally understand what she means now. My ASB service may have lasted only a week, but the experience will last a lifetime.
This year’s Alternative Spring Break taught me to appreciate the little things that we normally take for granted, like a roof over your head or a shower that has hot water. I also learned that we as a society need to treat others equally, whether it is a person who lives on the streets or is a drug addict. It was nice to help people that we're so grateful for the help we were providing. This trip taught me that even the little things leave a positive impact on others’ lives.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Maya Angelou has said. I feel this quote sums up my whole experience with Alternative Spring Break.
This was the first time I’ve attend Alternative Spring Break and it was an experience to remember. One thing I learned about myself is that I cannot change everything, nor can I change everyone around me, but I can help bring change just by doing the littlest things like engaging in casual conversation with people who are in rehab, or playing with orphans, or even painting a chair for a mission house. There are many people in the world who have things worse than I do, and ASB has helped me to see that I do not have to be so hard on myself when I succumb to failure sometimes.
“En la vida puede fallar, Pero después de la lluvia viene el sol. Deje que su luz le guiará a iluminar las luces tenues de los demás.” This quote translates to, “In life you may fail, but after rain comes sunshine. Let your light guide you to brighten the dimmed lights of others.”
This years’ Alternative Spring Break gave me an opportunity to closely interact and live among many domestic students and understand their culture in relation to my societal norms, customs, and traditions. As an international student, I have brought first-hand experience of my culture to a pool of domestic students which has turned out to be a superb blend of diverse cultures and an excellent experience for both international and domestic students to mingle closely.
Regardless of our distinguished characteristics such as race, color, language – and no matter which part of the world we belong to – we all are the same inside and share common feelings and emotions towards other beings and our selves.
This year UBASB is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience to me, and I am thankful to all my teammates whom I have learned from.
Alternative Spring Break was something I wanted to do since I came here. Going on this trip has made me realize that you don’t have to be blood related to be family, and it doesn’t really matter how long you’ve known someone, you can always connect with new people. I went into this trip thinking that the only thing I had in common with the other 17 members was a love for giving back and doing community service, and came out of it seeing that there’s much more beneath the surface.
The ASB experience has changed the way I see others in realizing that everyone has their own story, their own background, and their own world perspective that has been influenced by their particular experiences. For myself, I think this idea has impacted me in realizing that listening to another’s story is just as valuable as community service. By growing your perspective, you can grow your knowledge of the world around you.
This ASB further cemented my capabilities of putting others first. As captain, all I wanted was to make sure my team had a great experience and that they came home with many positive memories. ASB continues to make me realize that I am very fortunate for every little thing I have, and despite any struggle, I can still move on with my life and continue helping others.
This experience has made me not only grateful for what I have, but also motivated me to replicate what I did in Puerto Rico in my own community.
This year’s Alternative Spring Break experience has broken down the stereotypes that are perceived by the world around us on a more interactional level. I’ve learned that it is truly the smallest things that can be the inspiration to make a difference in someone’s life, your life, and even the world around you.