Guess how much I love the UVM ASB program? Enough to write an article about it! I've been involved with Alternative Spring Break on the UVM campus since my first year of college in 2013; first as a participant, then as a site leader, and now a director. ASB is an entirely student run organization that sends 15 groups of UVM students across the country to engage in meaningful, intentional, and reflective community service. If you go to UVM, are interested in expanding your understanding of volunteer work, and love to travel, we have the program for you! Here are the top ten reasons why ASB might just be right up your alley!
1. You'll be doing community service with an impact
I've been involved with civic engagement and volunteer work for a while on campus, and something that I've learned is how important it is to be critical, mindful, and intentional. I am generally hesitant to participant in volunteer abroad programs because I notice that there are often damaging savior-complexes attached to them that dis-empower the communities they work with.
ASB works actively to create a program that isn't trying to impose resources on other communities and non-profits across the country. We aren't saying, "We're here to help you! Because we're helpful!", we're saying, "What do you need from us? You know your community better than we do, and we want to learn how to offer support in ways that you need."
Community service work is done with meaning, education, and advocacy. When a person engages in this model of service work, they're facilitating growth toward more active citizenship.
2. You can make long-lasting friendships
Putting ten people in a van for a week and sending them into unfamiliar territory absolutely sounds like a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, I've seen just the opposite on our ASB trips. When people are sharing such close quarters and trying to navigate a new routine altogether, they connect. I have seen some of the closest friendships develop from people participating on ASB together. During this experience, participants and leaders have the opportunity to learn about one another deeply, often during vulnerable conversations. Groups often come out of this experience joining clubs together, having "family dinners", and reminiscing over their favorite ASB memories.
3. You get to travel and see a bit more of the country
ASB programs are all domestic (traveling outside of the US would be too much paperwork, honestly) and outside of the New England area. In the past, our trips have gone to locations such as: Miami, in order to arrive at their locations safely. Drives lasting as long as 24 hours mean there is potential for driving through a plethora of states, communities, and historic sites. For me, this has meant being in awe at the gas prices and the flattened topography of the mid-west.
4. You'll have the opportunity to learn from the organizations we work with
As mentioned before, a pillar of the Break-away service model is the importance of community empowerment. The community organizations that may be supporting programming related to disaster relief, animal welfare, poverty, justice, and environmental conservation are all well-versed and passionate about the social issues most pertinent to their work. There is a world of experts from these communities who have the most grounding and profound knowledge to share with us. They will ensure that we are getting something new with each experience through hands-on service work, an understanding of the community at large, and authentic conversations about social justice and equity. It's inspiring and humbling, to say the least.
5. You get to come home with the coolest spring break stories
One of my favorite pieces of the ASB experience is when you finally get to go home for the week and have the opportunity to sit with and reflect on your work. This is also when you'll be one-upping your friends' spring break experiences (even if they did an ASB trip too, you'll want to assert that your group was the best, probably). You'll try to explain inside-jokes, talk about your service site with a most burning admiration, and show everyone your new Facebook album.
6. You get free, home-cooked meals for a week
Okay, and by "home-cooked", I actually mean "group-cooked". You and your group members will prepare meals for the week and have the chance to do some family-styled eating. And by "free", I mean "free". I mean, there is a fee associated with the ASB program, but all meals, housing, and travel expenses are covered within that. You get free food, that's the moral of this. You also get to share mealtime conversations with the superb folks you're connecting with. It's a great way to further connect and share with each other, and, to reiterate once more: FOOD.
7. You get to learn more about yourself
Prior to my first ASB experience, I had a limited understanding of what community service meant to me. I think I was very much developing an individual definition, but I still had not actively worked to take an inventory of my own biases, expectations, and intentions. From my own experiences with ASB, I learn more and more about how I want to approach the world and learn from communities that are facing unfair, systematic oppression. I learn more about how to prioritize self-care in order to be a more compassionate and available citizen. I learn more about how to understand my own needs in order to empathize with what needs the communities may be having. I do believe that ASB strives to teach all participants that we're all still learning and growing, and we can use that to support the communities around us.
8. You rock out to some rad van jams
I mean, what's a road-trip without a mix-tape and a sing along? Yeah, exactly. There is a significant amount of preparation I have put into creating the perfect Spotify "van jams" playlists; a solid playlist sets the foundation for a solid journey ahead. We encourage each participant to create their own playlist to share with others on the road as a way to communicate through musical taste and interests. At first, I've noticed that the need to impress other group members naturally manifests as one of those "Put on whatever! I'll listen to anything!" attitudes. By about day two or three of the trip, the battles for the aux cord begin.
9. You can connect with a larger community at UVM
Not only are you able to make lasting friendships with your ASB group, you're able to join the UVM ASB community at large. Sometimes group members from one trip will schedule to bond with another. Sometimes groups are able to link up to do some organization fundraising together. Once you've done ASB, you've joined an informal group of hundreds of alumni who'd probably say something to you along the lines of: "Whoa dude! I did ASB too! Changed my life! Sweet!"
I notice that participants who arrive back on campus from ASB are itching to do some community organizing and management on our own campus. I've seen plenty of ASB participants form there own clubs, solidarity events, community service projects, etc. Participants are also more aware of resources available in the Student Life office, more specifically, the office of Leadership and Civic Engagement (I call them the "always got your back" crew, seriously, such a beautiful arrangement of humans).
10. Fruit snacks
Not kidding, y'all. The boxes we get are in bulk.
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