Missouri State University
Immersion Programs
A chronicle of Missouri State immersion service trips

Community, Identity, Education, Service

My first ever immersion trip was to Dallas last year, Spring Break 2016, as a participant. My second trip was to Kansas City this past fall. And now this is my third, and maybe final, immersion trip that I’ve gone on with Bear Breaks (only because of a busy upcoming fall with being in the university’s marching band and me student teaching the following spring). From my first trip to this one, I’ve always found myself becoming reflective near the end of the trip. It’s not been a public reflection, instead it’s been one that I’ve shared to myself or have blogged about on here in order to properly process all of my thoughts, emotions and feelings.
So before reading any more, realize that this blog post will be the exact same. There might be some emotional sections, but nothing too dramatic or cheesy, I promise.

Throughout these trips, I’ve come to learn a lot about service and social issues, specifically the guiding factors that have influence and effect on children, as that has been the focus of each of my trips. Even though I haven’t been able to experience a trip with a different social issue, there are common themes among any social issue and the service that affects it. First and foremost, community is the driving force that is at the center of any social issue. It’s hard to have a social issue that isn’t about community, even topics such as Animal Rights is related to how we as communities interact with and treat animals around us. That being said, we cannot ignore the positive impact that community has on us. We are only connected through community, we are only connected through the bonds of similarities we have, but we are also connected through our diverse differences. Yes, we all have similarities that connect us. These may be values and morals, language, food, geographic location, ideas, religion and much, much more. But we also have differences in all of these areas as well. And that’s okay. Our differences allow us to expand our world view to better understand each other. A celebration of both similarities and differences is what makes communities strong.

Although this expanding understanding of social issues, service and community has been the overarching theme of my time with Bear Breaks, it has not been the only thing I have learned from them. This recent Dallas trip has been very different than past ones, as I was a co-trip leader with Sarah Harp. First, planning the trip as a co-trip leader was WAY different than being a co-trip leader during the actual trip. Although our advisors and Exec board did a great job preparing us for the trips, nothing could have accurately prepared us to lead in the week. It was a lot of thinking on our feet, crazy amounts of variables, laughing, stress, and every thing in between. As a co-trip leader, our focus shifts from understanding social issues and how service positively impacts ourselves and the community, to facilitating not only the logistics of the trip, but leading our participants to understand what their role is in service and the social issue at play. It’s a lot different. A lot more to worry about. But nothing could have been more rewarding. None of us trip leaders would say that the job was easy, but none of us would say that we didn’t grow in one way or another. Some of us were pushed to equally and collaboratively work on trip planning, others were faced with trying to help participants bond, and some of us were encouraged to learn as we lead trips over social issues in which we had no previous experience. Being a trip leader has pushed me out of my comfort zone in order to grow in areas that I never have before. And you know what’s the craziest part about all of this? Bear Breaks is in it’s FIFTH YEAR of existence at Missouri State. We had 7 Spring trips and 2 Fall trips with over 100 applicants in JUST FIVE YEARS. If that doesn’t blow your mind and make you want to yell “Go Bears!” at the top of your lungs, then I don’t know what will. Everything about this organization screams what it means to be a Missouri State Bear. The sacrifices we have put in with the education we have gotten out of it, all combined with the positive community impact, defines us as Missouri State Bears, Active Citizens and agents of social change. If you are reading this and are a student, get involved with Bear Breaks because it will make a difference in your life that you will never fully realize. If you’re an alumni, then be proud of your Alma Mater. If you’re a faculty or staff, then understand how your institution is furthering its values through the Public Affairs Mission. If you’re a parent, understand how much of a difference your child’s university can make. If you’re anyone outside of those categories, then understand how being a Missouri State Bear is more than just attending classes at the university. I talked about the power of community in regards to social issues a lot. But something to keep in mind: it is through our effort as a Missouri State community that we are able to positively impact other communities.

“Individually, we make a difference. Together, we make an impact.” – Jeff Kirscher

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who’s telling the story anyway?

I’m fairly sure going on a trip across the United States with 10 other people I hardly know FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK breaks every stranger danger rule my mom has ever set for me, but here we are. (Sorry, mom, you tried.) Anyways, if it isn’t already obvious because I’m writing this, I’ve made it to the end of the week alive and well.

If you’ve been tuning in to our Bear Breaks Colorado blog posts, you’ve probably gathered we’ve been volunteering with Children’s Hospital Colorado and, tonight, Denver Rescue Mission. We’ve also been casually exploring some of the most beautiful sites in the state, but I’m not trying to focus on that right now. Let’s go back to serving. Can I tell you about something that has completely changed my perspective? (I’m going to assume “yes” because why else would you still be reading??)

Over the course of this school year, I’ve learned that children speak through play. Sometimes children just don’t know how to verbally express how they’re feeling or it’s just too uncomfortable and that’s okay. Instead, they turn to the thing they are most familiar with- toys and make believe. This was very apparent when we served in the Creative Play Center in the hospital. It was remarkable how much a child could say without really saying anything at all.  They were just kids being kids expressing themselves so naturally.

I’ve been wondering why we adults fail to express ourselves so freely. But then it hit me, we DO express ourselves. People are sharing their stories wordlessly every day and they demand to be heard. We just need to tune in.

In searching for these stories, we have to remember people are far more than just their circumstance. People are people first. “Homeless people” are people experiencing homelessness. They are people first. “Sick children” are children experiencing illness. They are children first.

I think it’s so important to remember that our circumstances don’t tell our stories, we do. Our neighbor’s circumstances don’t tell their stories, they do. 

 

 

 

 

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Us verse Them

We discussed often this week how it is easy for we who are not homeless to have the “us verse them” mentality. We do not think of ourselves on the same level as these individuals to the point of dehumanizing them.

Many believe, and I once did, that those who are homeless bring the problem on themselves. We may believe they are not trying hard enough to get out of their situations or are taking advantage of the systems that give them free food and clothing. But do we know the path that has brought these people to their situations? How have they been hurting? Different people I came in contact with during the week have helped me gain a new perspective.

As I was checking in clients to receive food from the food pantry Safe Haven in a Chicago neighborhood, a man who was homeless informed me that it was his first time at the shelter. He said that his girlfriend and him recently broke up so he was living out of his car and moving from place to place.

Earlier this week we volunteered at New Life Church who worked with helping women out of sex trafficking. The woman who led the organization informed us of a woman they recently saved out of her situation. She was marked all over her body from drugs and appeared close to death. When New Life came to her rescue she accepted help and now she is working towards her college degree.

Another woman who led a pantry we volunteered at used to live on the streets. Now she is serving her community and bringing other individuals out of the situation she was once in.

I don’t know how these individuals got where they are and I don’t know where they are going. I don’t know them at all but they taught me a lot about being human. We all need help in different ways throughout our lives and each struggle will look different and be different for each individual. We don’t choose our circumstances and the way we are the way we are. Because of these facts we have to ask for help and we have to give help. We all have a part to play in the lives around us whether that is accepting help or giving it. We are all on the same level. All humans. All flawed. All different yet all so similar. All important. All unique. All have a purpose on this earth. If we all seek to look at and act toward each human with this mindset I believe it could bring so much more love into the world.

Thank you, Chicago and my fellow trip members, for teaching me this and more.

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Our Last Day in NOLA

Today was our final day in NOLA!! We started off the day with cafe au lait and beignets from the famous Cafe du Monde. After that we made our way to The Presbytere, a museum dedicated to the history of hurricanes in New Orleans, with a focus on Hurricane Katrina. This was an immersive and interactive exhibit. For me the most impactful portion was the accounts from the citizens of New Orleans. This gave me new perspectives on Katrina that were emotional and unfiltered. Finally, in the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day we attended the parade which ran through Jackson Square. This was a new experience in that we walked right up to the parade and got to celebrate along side everyone participating in the parade.

This week has been a great opportunity to shed light on a rebuilding city and to learn the history behind the disaster that caused such devastation. We worked hard all week long to immerse in the culture and understand community revitalization in New Orleans. Now as the week ends, please remember to follow us on Instagram and twitter: @msunola.  Over the next couple months we will be shifting our focus back to Springfield. This will introduce our participants to the social justice topic of community revitalization in Springfield. Through education and service we will expand our knowledge about community revitalization and continue our work toward being an active citizen in our communities.

Also, there is still time to support our trip. Hopefully you’ve been following along with us all we week, if you’d like to support us further, please visit our page on GiveCampus!

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Remember

By Saki Sakaihara

Today, we went to Saint James Food Pantry to help the organization distribute food for homeless people and people don’t have enough money to buy food.

In the morning, most of the people who came to the pantry were Chinese. They were not able to speak English well, but some members of us tried to communicate with them using simple words and slowing down speaking English. I was impressed to have seen this happen even though I didn’t have an opportunity to be involved with people as much. I’m from Japan and I can’t speak English fluently, so I understand how scary it is that people live in a different country from where they have grown up. That’s why I think our team did great a job today.

In the afternoon, we gave food and water to homeless people. To be honest, I was scared to communicate with homeless people. When I saw homeless people on the street, I always tried to ignore them, because I thought they would make an attack on me for food and money. However, I was wrong.
They were not dangerous. They appreciated our service and often said “Thank you.” Then, I found that I had prejudiced about homeless people.
During the service, a woman spoke to me and we had a conversation for a couple minutes. It was fun. Before she left there, she asked me to hug her. I was surprised but glad, and I hugged her. Through this one moment, something changed in my mind. If I didn’t join this program, that change would not happen in my life.

When we reflected today’s service, I talked about this story and I couldn’t stop crying. I was afraid of saying my feelings to everyone, but other members felt same things, too. It made me happy.

I will never forget what happened today.
I want to be an English teacher in the future. So, I will tell it to my future students in Japan someday.

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Last but not least, French Quarter

Ok, so I was left with the last day of our amazing trip. It’s sad to think that tomorrow we’ll be heading back to Springfield but so happy to experience everything and every detail that we did this week.

Just for start, english is not my first language (so I’m really sorry for any grammar mistakes) and United States is not my home country. But I can say that not only just me, but all the friends that I did on this trip got really amazed by this opportunity.

Today was our free day but deep down we missed hammering some nails, digging holes, building decks and painting houses. You can think that free day means “chill day” but it was the opposite. New Orleans has so much to offer that we couldn’t even imagine that we would end up this day as much tired as the others.

First, we got to try the famous Beignets at Cafe du Monde and I have no abjectives to describe that experience – not even in portuguese – it was even more than I expected. Then we walked around appreciating local arts on the Lafayette Square until the Presbytere Museum was opened. I think I can say for all the girls (+Alex) on the museum was the highest point of our trip, we could see that all of our work was more than valuable.

When Hurricane Katrina happened we were young so it’s acceptable that we don’t remember much of the pain that U.S. been through that time. But getting to see the images and videos of that time and learning the geographical reasons together with human errors for the vastiness made us realize that we did a good job this week serving a town that has lost so much. Even though we helped build “only” three houses, that makes a huge difference for this city that we are not able to mesure.

After that experience we got the full day to enjoy New Orleans as the way it deserved. We walked around French Quarter small streets, window shopped, bought souvenirs, ate Crawfish Hot Dogs and Crepes. We made the huge mistake to think that our “free day” was going to do a “chill day” and our fit bits just proved that.

The cherry of the pie was St. Patrick’s day Parade, for me, an international student from Brazil, it was an unique experience to watch so many people enjoying and celebrating. The best part was to enjoy all of this with the new friends that I did on this Spring Break.

Our trip ends tomorrow, but I think all the lessons that we’ve learned and the feelings that we shared it’s going to last long.

Hope Alex and Liz have a great night of sleep because tomorrow it’s going to be a long day driving back home.

 

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Last Day of Service

Today was our final day of service. Throughout the week, we had serviced at various locations around Atlanta including, the Central Night Shelter, the Atlanta Center of Self Sufficiency and Bright Futures House. Before today all of services that we had participated included direct service. I found this type of service the most fulfilling part of the whole trip. This is because I got to interact one on one with the clients visiting the sites. Today we served at Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry and warehouse. This is a client choice food pantry where costumers get to choose the food they would like to have instead of being handed allocated food. The task that was given to us perform included shelving all the donated food and house hold items that the organization had received. Unlike any of the services that we had participated this service involved more behind the scenes action then client interaction.  It was very surprising to see the number of donations that they have received. In the half day, we were there we had stacked the shelves to full capacity plus more. Just the amount of food that was donated and not gone to waste like it would normally would made me appreciate the quality of life that I lead and how food plays a big role in the way I go about my day to day life.

We learned that there are many services that Saint Vincent de Paul offers to its clients other than just the food pantry. For them to make their clients more self-sufficient they also provide clothing services and more personalized services. I liked the client choice model rather than what one would normally see when thinking of a food pantry. This model makes it so the customers get to be more active in the choosing of food so that they are helping them achieve self-sufficiency.

The second half of the day was spent at the Atlanta Center of Self Sufficiency. This is another organization that helps their clients achieve self-sufficiency. In short terms, ACSS helps its clients get prepared for the work force, this is done by mainly giving them the confidence and skills needed to get then further in life. It was interesting to see how the how the different clients that came from many different backgrounds and experiences all had certain goals in mind when it came to employment, despite the hardships they had to go by. On this trip, we were able to spend a couple of days at ACSS and interact with the clients and learn about their life. While helping the clients pick out outfits for a job fair and helping to structure their resumes, it was very rewarding to see how a little help can go a long way. There was a confidence boost in the actions towards their future and their ability to move forward in life in a positive manner.

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Service and Nature- Ross Wright

Staying at home, relaxing, and taking a mental break from school may have been nice but I wouldn’t have traded it for this trip. I knew when I applied I wanted to do something productive with my time off, so I was thrilled to be accepted. I’m also glad that the service of Children and Families related to my social work major. I looked forward to this trip for a few months.

The trip was everything I expected and more. Getting to experience the Denver Children’s Hospital was amazing. The hospital was accommodating and intentionally set up for the service of children. Despite the reasons children may have been coming to the facility, it looked welcoming and fun. Getting to participate in creative play was surprisingly natural even though I had never done so before. I felt I connected with the children and families in a meaningful way even though it was a short time. It would be awesome to continue volunteering there, if I could. Denver Rescue Mission was also a rewarding experience as I got to help run the kitchen that served people living on the streets of Denver. The Rescue Mission was less client interaction, and more manual labour but I still felt I made a positive contribution to the city of Denver.

Exploring the city of Denver was exciting. I had always looked forward to seeing the Rocky Mountains and they did not disappoint. Being able to look at the gigantic wonders was great, but getting to hike and drive up them was unforgettable. The nature and culture of Colorado has to be one of my favourites that I have experienced in the US. I would like to return to Denver on my own in the future to explore all it has to offer.

This trip was great because I got to immerse myself in Denver not only in its nature, but also its community.

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We All Get Stuck Sometimes

Growing up, I always thought quicksand would be a bigger deal in my life than it actually was. I was cautious of quicksand and nervous about if and when it would suck me up. Today was the closest I came to sinking in quicksand. For our last and final day of Bear Breaks in Asheville, we served with Asheville Greenworks again helping them to remove a log jam that got stuck in one of the creeks flowing into the French Broad River. To paint a picture of what this morning started out as, we were all instructed to put on rubber waders and boots to protect us from the water. However, the sizes were limited and I ended up looking like a 5’4″ tall Michelin man with XL waders underneath a white puffy coat. (It also started to rain even though there was not even the slightest chance of rain in the forecast). Nevertheless, I love this kind of stuff; the down-and-dirty get after it kind of stuff. I began not to love it, however, when I kayaked over to the other side of the bank to physically remove logs from a giant pile and got stuck in the mud when I tried to get out of my kayak. Literally. I got stuck in this mixture of water/mud/sand slosh for at least twenty minutes. I wish I was exaggerating. I tried to play it off and laugh like, “Haha I’m stuck in the mud; only this would happen to me!” but I was starting to panic. And then I lost my shoe. And then I got even more stuck when I tried to shovel the boot out. So thus I waited in the mud as only stuck people do until one of the Asheville Greenworks staffers paddled over with a shovel to dig the boot out, and then she helped me get out of the goop. Once I was out of said goop and got my boot back on, I went to town on removing those logs from the pile. When we ended the service, I felt great! The weather had warmed up, the sun was shining (a rarity this week), and I felt like we had really made a dent in the log jam. Quite honestly, I even forgot that I almost started crying an hour and a half earlier when I was stuck in the mud.

I realized I do this to a lot of situations in my life. Something tough happens in my life, I feel stuck, then I get out of it and sometimes move on with life without giving it a second thought. I also realized how fortunate I am to do this; to get out of situations relatively quickly because I have a huge support system with me through every step of the way. Heck, I even had a support system while I was physically stuck in the mud. We all just get stuck sometimes. Whether like I was, physically, or mentally, financially, emotionally, or what-have-you. This week once again reminded me that sometimes people are stuck in situations, whether that be they do not have a stable housing or income situation, a disease like HIV/AIDS, or having difficulty finding food for the month. Sometimes the people we love and care about get stuck, and we don’t know how to help them. Sometimes we feel the people far from us, like our friends without homes or our friends with life-changing diseases or different economic situations, get stuck and we don’t know how to help them.

But what if we didn’t look at it as helping them because we feel we are more privileged and it’s what we ought to do?  Or what if we didn’t look at it as fixing the problem because it’s broken? But simply just serving the ones around us in the ways that best suit their needs. What if we served them by building relationships with people and letting them know that they are valued and point them to resources that might be of aid? This is the main thing I learned this week: meet people where they are, not where you want them to be. While I was stuck in the mud, Kate (the Greenworks employee) had to meet me where I was: smack dab in the middle of quicksand-esque goop. I’m sure she would have much rather met me up on the bank or on the other shore safe and sound, but she didn’t. She came to me and helped me where I was at, and she got messy while doing so. In fact, she had to go put on different boots and come back so she could better aid me. But she still came back, and she still got messier. So too, with serving others. We can’t get close to people without getting messy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

 

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Day 5- Asheville, NC

Our service for today was through Greenworks again and our task was to help clean up a river that was blocked by a fallen tree and branches. It was freezing cold this morning and slightly rainy so the thought of going into the freezing cold river was not very appealing. There were a few brave souls who hopped in a kayak to help grab the branches from the opposite side of the river. They explained to us the problems that come with a blocked river (flooding, pollution, etc.) and one of the guys that worked there showed us a project that he and others had been working on to alleviate the problem of pollution within the river.

After service we went on a 5 mile hike at Pisgah National Forest. It got up to 62 degrees today (the highest its been all week) so we were all super excited for that.

To end that night we had reflection after dinner. We talked about our service with Greenworks today of course, but we also talked about what we were going to do when we got back to Springfield. We have all gained so much knowledge and passion for the things we have experienced this whole week and we don’t want to leave that here in Asheville. We are excited to go back and make a difference in the Springfield community.

  

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