In the earlier part of October, many universities have Fall Break, where students get an extended weekend of 4 days. In this time, many students go home to visit their families or stay on campus to hang out with their friends. Another option that is now very popular is the concept of an Alternative Break. An alternative break is when a group of students under a volunteer organization, such as Volunteer Emory, goes and volunteers during their vacation in a specific part of the country focusing on a specific topic. Topics range anywhere from poverty and homelessness to sustainability and healthcare management.
I have always wanted to attend one of these trips and this fall break, I finally got my opportunity. I, along with 11 other students, went to Savannah, Georgia to explore the healthcare disparities of the community in that city, and learn about how I could continue to make a difference in my future. We worked with a variety of organizations including Hoofs 4 Healing Equestrian Services, a Ronald McDonald House, St. Josephs Candler Adult Day Center, Wesley Community Center and MedShare in Decatur, Georgia.
Hoofs 4 Healing Equestrian Services was an extremely unique opportunity for me as one of our first community partner interactions on this trip. As an organization, the mission is to use horses as a form of therapy for veterans and children with different autoimmune and cognitive disorders such as autism. What the owners found, Karen and Ken, was that the children with autism who would not talk at home were thrilled and conversed so well after getting on the horse. I was so happy to learn about the impact that an animal has on a younger child. In addition, the horses help with physical therapy as well, which I learned as I got the chance to ride a horse myself. The horse's trots forces the rider's hips to rock back and forth which allows for sensations in the legs, a powerful benefit for those with physical injuries. I love how this program exists, and wish that this would exist in other parts of the US to find non-medical ways to alleviate the symptoms of certain diseases or disabilities.
Another of the community partners that had a unique mission was close to home in Decatur, Georgia known as MEDShare. MEDShare is a non-profit organization that ships medical supplies to countries around the world and for countries that face disaster relief. The organization receives donations from hospitals, other organizations and sponsorships from individuals. The organization ships medical supplies that are applicable in all aspects of a hospital ranging from facial wipes and Vaseline, to catheters and needles to equipment to help mothers in childbirth. We went and helped with the first round of sorting donations to prepare for shipping. While the task felt monotonous, I love how much of an impact this small task has on the lives of many people. As the staff said, we were not packing boxes; we were saving lives and being sustainable. The mission is incredible to me and I hope organizations like this would exist in the future.
In addition to volunteering in unique and truly impactful organizations, going on an Alternative Fall Break allowed me to meet new people and form great friendships through continuous bonding. We went to the beach, got dinner and ice cream and laughed as we slept in sleeping bags on the floor of a YMCA. We continue to talk after our trip, which I truly appreciate. I hope to go on more alternative breaks in the future and encourage everyone to apply!