So Much More Than a Random Road Trip // Omaha, Nebraska

So much more than a random road trip.
This piece is broken up into 4 parts:
PRE-TRIP (what).
TRIP (so-what).
REFLECTION (now what).
CLOSING THOUGHT (just that).

PRE TRIP: (what).
During Winter Break 2016 the Volunteer Center at Central Michigan University sent roughly 18 Alternative Break (AB) trips all across the states. Sign ups for these trips happen months in advance: online at 7:30 AM on a weekday. The demand for these life-changing experiences is high, and they fill within minutes (no joke). If you don’t make it directly on a trip, the Waiting List welcomes you (and many others) with open arms.

Saving my funny story for another time, that’s where I found myself – on the waiting list.
During a hectic semester, thoughts of doubt and uncertainty began to creep my brain…
Would I get off the list and put onto a trip? // What trip? // Was I even supposed to go on a trip? // Were the trips that I wanted to go on not the one that I was meant for?

Patience, Danielle.
It may appear to be at a stand still on your end, but God is indeed, actively working beyond what you can see.

What’s unique about the Alternative Break program is that you sign-up for a social issue that you are interested in, rather than the location of that trip. You select a social issue, and your destination is revealed later in the semester during one of the weekly meetings your group has leading up to the break. Social issues range from Immigration and Domestic Violence all the way to Suicide Prevention and America’s Heroes (links are to fellow CMU students blog posts).

One email received one chilly afternoon containing the (paraphrased) words,
Congrats. You’ve been taken off the waiting list and placed on the Criminal Justice Winter Alternative Break.

My raw reactions consisted of a range of emotions:
Reassurance: I was indeed called to go.
Excitement: I made it off the dreaded waiting list.
Anticipation: What would we be doing and would I even enjoy what we would be doing?
Wonder: What qualifications or experiences did I have to offer on a break for Criminal Justice?

Before the trip, I did not know the impact all those we encountered would have on me.
Before the trip I did not know the impact I would have on the students we interacted with, the students I was serving alongside, or all others we encountered.
I still don’t know, nor may I ever know the full extent of those lasting impacts.

: (so-what).
11 students.
2 mini-vans (named Salt & Pepper).
Starting destination: Lot 55 at CMU in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Ending destination: Omaha, Nebraska.

We stayed at Trinity United Methodist Church in Ralston, NE. Lifestyle: minimalistic. We slept on the cold, hard ground, but the food in the kitchen, the roof over our heads, and the beautiful souls of the people surrounding, reminded us that we were truly blessed.

Each day of service we volunteered our time at Heartland Family Service: Youth Links Triage Center. The pre-service nerves were different than my regular day-to-day jitters. I was entering as a sheep among wolves, hoping to make an impact beyond my measure.

Monday (December 18th)  Thursday (December 21st)
I could take this time to tell you about our mega paper rock scissors game, what interesting foods we ate for lunch, the basketball tournament or kickball game, the crafts we made, gave, and received… But there is simply no strand of words that can quite capture the vibrant spirit behind every name, face, and story we encountered during that week.

Some of the kids are in gangs. Some of the kids had stolen cars or got caught with drugs. Some of the kids are rapists, felonies, addicts. Some of the kids are too young to drive, but old enough to get pregnant, have a beautiful child, then have the child pass away one year previous to our visit that cold December. At least, those are the boxes society wants to confine these kids to. We saw beyond that predestined box. We gave them second chances. We allowed the kids to be kids, while treating them like decent human beings, like adults.

Our work was beautifully draining, emotionally exhausting. Each day I continued to remind myself: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 of the way done with our service at Youth Links. Our time was limited.

It took reminding myself each day to remain intentional with my time, keep my mind focused, and work towards leaving an impact that would last longer than simply my time in their presence. Leading up to the trip my group members and I shared the thing we were most nervous about for this experience. Mine was the ripping apart of my heart knowing that we would eventually be leaving them, just as so many had done before. I did not let that hinder me from giving my all. & It was worth it, seeing them finally dance in the window of the center as we danced with them in the parking lot before our departure.

: (now what).
Coming back to my reality is always one of the hardest parts. The question we are left with is, “Where do we go from here? What do we do now?” Not all of us have the ability to get up and go to different places (time constraints or financial burdens).
Good news! We can start from where we are, right here, right now.
Here are three ways:

1. LEARN – do research: on the internet, read articles, watch documentaries (I personally highly recommend 13th Amendment on Netflix), ask questions, have conversations. Do whatever it is you need to do to become aware of this social issue and how it effects others and yourself.

2. GO – you don’t have to travel to Nebraska to volunteer your time in a correctional facility like we did. In a 10 mile radius from where you are as you reading this, I guarantee you there are a plethora of places where you could volunteer your time. Maybe it is at a correctional facility, maybe it’s at a local elementary, middle, or high school, church, maybe it’s even within your residential hall or home.

3. LISTEN – so many people out there simply want someone who is willing to listen to them. Be willing to ask uncomfortable questions, but also allow yourself to be surprised at how willing people are to simply speak. You don’t always have to have all the right answers. Simply being willing to listen to someone can change their day, and ultimately, possibly their life. Give them a chance before placing them in the box society wants you to so badly, so easily.

CLOSING THOUGHT: (just that)
This experience has challenged me, has inspired me, has unveiled in me a deeper level of understanding of the effects that the Social Justice system has on individual lives, and ultimately has encouraged me to keep doing what I’m called to do and keep becoming who I’m supposed to be. I’d love to further the conversations beyond this, over coffee or over the phone – questions and comments are encouraged.

It’s curtains!

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