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

Immersion Trip to Chicago


I’m a one-year-program EMBA student from China. I spent the only spring break I had in an immersion trip other than tourist trip to Miami or California because I wanted to understand more about this country and I wanted to help people wherever I am. I don’t care I wasn’t in many group pictures for sometimes I was the photo taker or sometimes I was busy working. This experience is a treasure to me, through which I got an understanding of poverty in big city and the working system that the society offers help to the hunger and homeless as well as the cherishable friendship with all the members of the group.

After a long drive all the way from Springfield, MO to Chicago, IL, our 14-people group started service vigorously on the second day we settled at HI hostel. St. James Food Pantry in Chicago was our first stop. Cathy, a main staff there, is a kind and devoted lady. She spent about 40 minutes in explaining what was going on in their community and how they were helping the homeless before assigning jobs to us volunteers. According to Cathy, people become homeless for many reasons, such as losing jobs, being disabled, not getting well with their families, having problems like alcohol or drugs. Homeless people may not seem like homeless. Some just go to work without being awared as homeless by their boss. St. James Food Pantry serves 5 neighborhoods and over 200 homeless people. We found a wall pinned up with T-shirts from different volunteer institutes, among which there was also our MSU’s.

My job in the morning was to put 6 cans, including 1 fruit and 1 vegetable at least, into a paper bag which they named Bag No.2 and was standardized by 6 cans, oatmeal, spaghetti, snack, fruits, bread and other diversified foods. Then after scrubbing as required, I helped to prepare cupcakes by putting a couple of them into a small plastic bag. Everyone worked hard and I felt exhausted. During lunch break, Cathy asked each of us to reflect on why you are here, how you helped and what you learned. Everyone took the reflection seriously and was touched by others’ words. We were also overwhelmed by Cathy’s devotion to her career. After that, we regained our energy and passionately served about 44 hunger and/or homeless people who waited in line and then got registered before they got free foods and clothes. I was moved by the genuine smile of Katie, the youngest girl in our group. She’s so sweet and her smile is so pure and I believe she is a real angel in this earthly world.

The next day, we went to learn from the Old Bag Program where the senior ladies told us plastic bags should be reduced and recycled as much as we can to protect the environment and protect animals from eating them and they also taught us how to cut plastic bags into plarns and crochet them into blanket for homeless people to sleep on.

The third place we served was Greater Chicago Food Depository where volunteers helped sort and pack donated foods into small packages. The premise of the Food Depository is located at rural area and the building looks like a pretty big factory. There are 4-5 such big Food Depositories in Chicago and the foods processed are delivered to over 300 small food banks in community, like St. James Food Pantry, all over Chicago. We met 3 other volunteer groups there. Before we got into the food workshop, we were required to put our personal belongings in lockers and scrub and put on caps, gloves, masks and aprons according to their strict policies dealing with foods. Our job that day was to pack pinto beans from huge boxes into small packages 3-pound per bag. We experienced teamwork in factory by different specific jobs, like shoveling, pre-scooping, weighing, labeling, packaging, strapping and delivering. Everyone worked as efficiently as we can and nobody asked for a break during the 3 working hours. We also had fun from such a hard work and communicated with other groups. Finally, the staff there announced we were the most efficient group they had ever seen and we packed 2014 bags in total. What an amazing group we are!

The last day, we served at Benton’s House where 6-7 young college-age people lived and taught younger kids at primary and middle school age there. We helped move bundles and boxes of foods and vegetables from truck into their kitchen and packed up into small bags, and among the foods we surprisingly found the pinto bean bags just like we packed at the Food Depository the day before. Then we helped clean their houses. Another Chinese international student, Stark, and I were asked to help clean a closet in which there was tremendously a mess and the first sight of that, esp. a heap of rat shit which I almost touched by hand, made me depressed. I couldn’t imagine how people could live in such a dirty environment. Stark encouraged me and did the hardest work and quickly well-organized all the items into logic order. At that moment, I felt the light in the closet suddenly became brighter. I was surprised till I learned Stark’s a Math major. When our volunteer hours were over, Collin and Tia remained there and worked 2 more extra hours to help fix their computers.

Later at that night, after group reflection with tears, I met Tia and Isa at lounge. As it was the last night of our trip, I couldn’t help looking answers for the doubts on my mind. Tia and Isa opened their minds and we had a deep talk. From them I learned as much as in the previous 4 days. They helped me to understand what’s poverty, what kind of help’s in need, and how we could do better. Therefore, I understood people in Benton’s House were not living an easy life and they were making their efforts to build a better life of their own and their neighbors.

Addition to understanding and friendship, I’m glad to see that most of the foods Chicago provides to those hunger and homeless people are plant-based foods and diversified by taking nutrition into consideration because that matches my vegetarian value of life, i.e. people don’t have to eat animals to get enough nutrition and the earth has enough foods to feed the whole population of human beings and eliminate hunger only if people choose plant-based foods, which is also more cruelty free and environment friendly by reducing carbon emission.

In the end, I want to thank Darren, Autumn and Ping, our group advisors and leaders. Not only they three always passed their passion to and took good care of everybody, but also they did enormous preparations beyond our knowledge. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until the day we finished our trip and began to write blog. We just know they three have spent a whole year to prepare the one-week immersion trip. Thank to them, our trip was so successful. Thank to them, we built up fantastic friendship.

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Indy Baby 5

As our trip is coming to an end, my mind is calm. To use some of the words people brought up in reflection, I feel very tired but accomplished, anxious but content, and most importantly, full. I believe we all feel very full after this week due to the abundance of knowledge we gained and new experiences we went through as a group. Also, we very much appreciated all of the Hoosier hospitality that was shown to us. Indianapolis is a truly magical place, and is very much underrated for all of the cool things they are doing. I have also never visited a state where the people have so much pride for their home. There is actually a whole new exhibit in the works at the downtown library that will be filled with books only by Indiana authors tailored towards the education and entertainment of children. It didn’t take long at all for me to fall in love with everything about this state and this trip. I fell in love with the state and all of its kindness and passion; I fell in love with learning, especially about how to better sustain this beautiful earth; and I fell in love with eight other people, who, just like myself, have a passion for serving and gaining knowledge, and a desire to help make this world a better place. The bond we all created together is something I could never have predicted, but one that I will hold close to my heart for a long time to come. We were all on the same page when making decisions or changing plans, and we all were great at going with the flow and really working hard when the situation called for it. I felt at home the entire week, and there really isn’t anything I ever felt mad or frustrated about, or anything I would have changed. This was a flawless trip to say the least, and I honestly cannot fathom the extent to which I loved it, but boy I did.

Today was our last day of service, and I think that it was a great way to wrap up everything we have experienced so far. Somehow the order of how our service days played out fell perfectly, because if any two days were switched, this trip would have been a very different experience. This just goes along with my strong belief of things happening for a reason, because our trip leaders really didn’t plan the service days in a certain order, they just happened to fall in line perfectly. I thought today was a good way to wrap everything up because we visited the Indiana Land Trust, which is a plot of land that is protected forever so that no one can ever destroy the natural environment in all of its 60 acres. All we did today was cut some winter creeper, an invasive species, off of trees and applied some herbicide to kill it, and it only lasted a couple of hours. However, it was valuable because our leader, who was so passionate about wildlife and nature, and so eager to answer our questions as well as listen to our stories and thoughts. My favorite thing about her though, was that she didn’t have all the answers. We would ask questions and to some of them she may just respond with “I don’t know,” and then rephrase it to ask us the same thing, causing us to think deeply about these issues we’ve been learning about all week. I have definitely learned that nature is unpredictable, and while we shouldn’t go on destroying all of it, some of the ways we are trying to “preserve” it could very well be just as harmful. This is just a very small tidbit of the topics our leader made us ponder today, and I found it to be very overwhelming yet calming to think about with her and while discussing the matters in reflection with our group.

Another huge part about this trip I really cherished was how it caused me to think about what I am truly passionate about. I learned a lot about myself this trip, too much to discuss here, but I wouldn’t have learned it anywhere else this spring break. The thing that kept creeping into my mind though, was how I can incorporate all of this knowledge I have been gaining into my life right now and my career in the future. What I decided is that I really can incorporate the things related to this trip that I am passionate about in both situations, and I get a little surge of excitement when I think about all of the possibilities for doing just that. I have been questioning whether I am going down the right path in terms of my major lately, but this trip has caused me to think about my major in a different way, and I have realized how I can be excited about it by also being excited about what I love to do on a regular basis.

To wrap everything up, one of our advisers mentioned something that really stuck with me today, and that is to ask yourself, “Why?” This means to really think about your purpose for doing all the things that you do, and I definitely don’t do this enough. Eventually though, I do believe I will find a more solid foundation for the reasons why I do things, and I will feel more complete and more confident in all that I do. What I learned from this is, and to quote a fellow member’s dad, “When you wake up in the morning, have a purpose bigger than yourself.” I think that if more people would do this, it would be astonishing how much we could accomplish as a whole just working together to better this world.

Namaste, friends. I’ll catch you later 🙂


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There’s something special about the Windy City

Chicago is the largest city in the Midwest and I was so fortunate to be chosen to be on this trip. Not only did I get to be in a large city, but I also got to do one of my passions, which is to serve (the poverty in this case).

I remember when I got my acceptance email from my trip leader that I would be joining the team to go to Chicago and serve in the poverty stricken areas, I was beyond pumped. But as the break approached I soon got nervous, because I didn’t know anyone on the team. I tried to get over that fact because I was there for one purpose, to serve the homeless in the largest city in the Midwest.
But what I didn’t know what was going to happen was something that would change my life forever.

The team I was so privileged to be apart of was so diverse, from Chinese and Brazilian international students, from people who lived all around the world, and different parts of Missouri. We were all so different and I had no idea how we were all going to get to know one another. But the great thing about this trip is that everyone paid to serve. Everyone on the trip had one sole purpose, to serve the community and learn from the organizations to bring back into our own communities. Just one small same interest such as serving brought us together and made us a team. I say “We all started together as strangers, now we give each other back rubs”. Literally when we departed, tears were streaming down faces, hugs and group hugs went for hours (it felt like).
Why did we become so close? It was because we were all so different. We all had different backgrounds and different majors. It was the differences that which brought us together. Our differences helped us get to know each other on a deeper level. We exchanged cultures and ideas. Through that we learned to love each other. Because we became such a tight-knit group we learned how to become a team. We never argued, instead we helped whoever was in need. At our service projects, we got multiple compliments on how we were the fastest and efficient working group they have ever seen. But to us, we were surprised, because we enjoyed what we did and we did it without even wanting to stop.

Helping the community is great! But helping the community with a team you love is even better. By the end of the trip I have had a special moment with each and every one of the team members (that’s 13 people I connected with). I learned something from each individual and they have changed me for the better. I can say I went in the trip not expecting too much but serving, but in the end I got more than I ever could imagine: giving my service to others, knowledge, wisdom, experience, lifelong memories, and a new family.


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Last Day but New Beginnings

It’s the last night of our Dallas Bear Breaks trip. We have been through lots of highs, many lows, lots of crying, and many laughs. Before I start, this is what needs to be said the most: this trip was the best decision I ever made. I had a lot of expectations going in this trip: I was going to get to work with kids, I was going to go on a trip to a place I’ve never been before, and I was going to come out of it learning something about myself that I hadn’t been before, but I think the phrase from one of our trip leaders, Lauren, summarizes it well: “This trip shattered our expectations.” In just a few short (but VERY LONG) days I have been able to make friends that have become a family, I have been able to bring joyous memories to children while giving cherished experiences to myself, and I have made a new story in my life.

IMG_20160311_230935[1]IMG_20160311_230545[1]I know that our trip was arranged for the service to children within the Dallas area, but I could not have picked a better group of people. These people have gone from strangers to friends within just a few days and we have learned so much about each other. We even plan on trying to continue our experiences back to Springfield and are planning on looking into volunteering together with children as well as have dinner meet ups at Tom and Sue’s (adviser and his wife) house. There’s no way to explain what happened with these people without getting super sappy and cheesy, so I’ll leave it to a few words instead. Never under estimate how close you can grow to others through serving together. You will grow, rely on each other, become friends, and never forget your time

IMG_20160311_230954[1]Our experiences with the kids at Wesley-Rankin varied for every one on the trip. Everyone had kids that they became attached to through working with homework, playing games, and hanging out. The Wesley-Rankin staff more than appreciated our time with the kiddos and I know that we appreciated it as well. Everyone spent their time with different age groups from the little ones of first and second grade all the way up to the middle schoolers. My heart was found in the middle schoolers and somehow something just clicked with them. The most difficult part was that it was the last day that I grew the closest to them. From one girl telling me that I was cool and asking if once I finish college I could get an internship there to having my own squad of kids that followed me around and kept saying “Same” to everything. I was a friend to them and that’s what they wanted the most. I hope to write to them and have Wesley-Rankin help facilitate the communication. Hopefully some of them will want to keep in touch because I know that I would love to write letters to them.IMG_20160311_231105[1]

I am so glad I decided to apply for this trip back in early Spring. Every single milestone of the trip was amazing. Despite this it’s so hard to try and describe everything that this trip has done and meant for me. You can’t fully describe it without having experienced it yourself. I am looking forward to becoming involved for the next year and can’t wait for the opportunities that will come. I am hoping to become a trip leader next year and maybe even come back to Dallas to work with the kiddos. By doing this hopefully I can help them create a similar experience that I had and help them be changed forever.

Until next year,

Aidan Williams



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Be Bold. Be Humble. Spread the Love.

Today marks our last day of service and learning with 6 communities across the country.  I cannot adequately express in words how humbled and grateful I am to work with Missouri State student leaders who have dedicated themselves to creating a brighter present and future for others. This week, each student brought his or her unique and valuable perspectives, talents, and awesomeness to their group and city. They undoubtedly created unforgettable friendships and experiences that will add so much depth to their college journey and beyond. In addition, they fully engaged in positive social change happening across the country.
Our vision at Missouri State University is that every student will be active citizens by engaging in positive social change in local, national, and global communities. Pretty lofty, right? Bear Breaks participants are making that vision a reality RIGHT NOW through their hard work, willingness to learn, and in-depth discussions about the important issues of today. The path toward active citizenship takes hard work, honesty, dedication, integrity, and is never ending. These trips, and the lessons learned from them, are connecting Bears with citizenship and with their unique visions for change.image

At the beginning of the week, I mentioned our principles: Pop the College Bubble, Be Fully Present, Spread the Love. Based on their inspirational reflections, I believe students have popped that bubble and are thinking critically about the positive power thy have in communities. Based on the friendships I have personally formed with both students and community leaders, I know students were fully present. Now, our job is to spread the love. This can be done by learning more about the change agents in Springfield, MO, by empowering other Bears to join you in service. image

This Spring Break, more than 60 students traveled to 6 cities to learn about certain social issues, serve alongside community members, and grow as people. Focusing on issues such as urban development, sustainability, children and families, health and wellness, and hunger and homelessness, these students fully IMMERSED themselves in communities.image

To our Bear Breaks Exec Board: Aubrey, Makaila, Emily, Ellen, and Brandi – Without your organization and dedication to community service, these trips could not happen. I’m proud of all you have accomplished this year!friends

To our Trip Leaders: Adam Sparks, Zach Dawson, Blake Shepheard, Zach Dumas, Xirun Ping, Autumn Ward, Lexi Eghbali, Lauren Cooksey, Haley Korn, John Lang, Jasmine Carter, and Kim Kayser – congratulations on a job well done! You have created strong bonds and planned some unforgettable memories. I look forward to working with you in the near future!

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To our Advisors: Dr. Daniel, Monique, Jeanette, Dr. Tomasi, Patrick, Darren, Dr. Scott, Alyssa, A’dja, and Josie – thank you for giving your time and talents to support Immersion programs. I’m excited to hear about your stories!

Join us for Coffee & Change on Tuesday, March 29th from 5:30 to 7:00p.m. in Plaster Student Union 131, when student leaders will share about their Immersion Trips.

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Asheville: A Day in North Bearolina

Today in North Bearolina, the Bears took on a wonderful task of serving with an organization called Green Works. The purpose of this organization is to offer fresh, organic products to anyone in the community for no cost. Green Works believes that every person should have access to organic, fresh food, even if they cannot afford it. Because of this belief, they allow anyone in the community to freely pick anything from their gardens whenever necessary.

So, starting at nine this morning, the Bears headed off to the orchard. We were all prepared to get our hands dirty and do a lot of manual labor until three in the afternoon. We were told that the last group that helped out worked all 7 hours and got about 300 trees planted. So we were prepared and excited for a long day of work. After everyone was assigned a job, the Bears got to work. Shortly after we started, we realized how great our group worked together. Everyone was encouraging each other, working hard, and having fun. In just an hour and a half we had already planted 300 trees!  We were on a roll and decided we wanted to plant all of the trees we had which was about 700. During our time of working, we also had a lot of fun. We came up with rapper names for everyone in our group and proceeded to make our own raps about everything we have done this week to songs. After making the hard decision of assigning the perfect name for each Bear, we realized we had finished planting all 700 trees. That’s right, we planted 700 trees in just three hours! This would have been so difficult to accomplish if it wasn’t for everyone in the group working hard and working together.

After finishing up with Green Works, we headed back to the church we are staying at to clean up, change, and eat lunch. Once that was finished, the Bears set off to explore more of Asheville. We ended up going on a beautiful hike with waterfalls throughout it. We were soaking up all the water and warmth we could (causing major sunburn for everyone) on our second to last day before leaving. But the views of the waterfalls made the burns worth it.

Today was a great way to finish out our week of service. With every day being a unique experience, we have encountered many different things and have been educated and equipped to bring what we have learned back to Springfield. I am so sad this trip is coming to an end, but the memories and experiences I have will have a lasting impact on my life. I cannot imagine spending my spring break doing anything else with different people.

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Flo Ridin’ through the days

So if there’s anything I have learned from the trip it’s this: Sue, one of our advisors, loves “Low” by Flo Rida and dances really well to it. Of course that’s not the only thing I have learned but it is the funniest. This trip is hard to put into words because I came in not knowing what to expect, because I have never been on a trip like this, but I was able to be connected and open minded to others like never before. What’s so unique about this trip is that we are all so different as people, but come together and are able to serve others in big ways. We have so much diversity between majors that it’s great to see such a huge passion for kids in all of us. 

The days have flown by and I can’t believe our stay here in Dallas is almost over. As I look back the days felt long because we fit so much into them, with service in the morning at Wesey-Rankin or Jonathan’s Place, then service at Wesley-Rankin with the after school program. I will always wish I had more time with them because they touched my heart in many ways. One little girl at Wesley-Rankin earned a place in my heart with her sassy personality and big smile. She told me I look like Taylor Swift, which I look nothing alike, and even offered to share her goldfish with me. Now, I don’t know about anyone else but if someone shares their food with me, we’re best friends instantly. The girl was shy at first but I was able to coax some answers out of her and soon we were talking about Tom Brady and whether or not she thinks he’s a great quarterback. At the end of the day she told she wouldn’t be back the rest of the week and got really sad. So I was ecstatic to see her the next day and we hit it off again. We became close and so Wednesday came and I told her I had to go. She started bawling and asked me not to. This was the first time I felt like I had made a real connection, like she truly wanted me to stay and play with her. She ended up coming Thursday and we got to hangout more and exchange info so we can be pen pals. I look forward to keep our friendship going and hoping to be someone she can turn to for anything. I think all children need someone outside their hectic lives they can turn to that will just listen and be there. I would love to be that person for this little girl so I am very excited to see how it develops. 

Jonathan’s Place really opened my eyes to the reality of the foster and CPS system. Although I know that families get separated and ripped out of their homes in the middle of the night, this was the first time I saw this in action. Jonathan’s place has great facilities for the children and they offer a lot of opportunities. Although they are very strict and run things a certain way, but they do have rules to follow. A girl and her little brother stood out to me the first morning so I was able to interact with them and learn more about their story. The little boy shared the story and it is something that changed how i was viewing things. We played games and you could tell the girl felt in charge of the boy and was constantly looking out for him, almost like she took on the mom role. I talked about them at reflection that night, their story really impacted me, and so I was excited because I wrote the girl a letter, hoping to make her feel good. The next morning we went in to see them and I noticed she was gone. I asked about her and they told me she was into a foster house but they separated the brother and sister. I had to step away and gain control of myself because my heart literally broke in two for them. I loved that they got a foster home but the idea of them being apart just made me so sad. They deserve to be together after everything they have been through. Although that’s the reality of the system and it happens all the time to many families. There is a huge need for child advocacy and I would love to be able to help, and so this trip has made me look into something like Jonathan’s place in Springfield, MO. I believe I have gained so much from this trip and I can’t wait to keep applying what I have learned and continuing my connections with these awesome kids!! I’m pumped for our free day today! IMG_1997

Me and my new pen pal!!
Me and my new pen pal!!
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Leaving a Piece of My Heart in Dallas

>1 in 5 young adults aging out of foster care will become homeless after age 18

58% will graduate high school by age 19, compared to 87% of all 19 year olds

<3% will earn a college degree by age 25, compared to 28% of all 25 year olds

It is clear that there is a prevalent need for service in our social issue in not only the Dallas community, but all over the world. Throughout our trip, we have seen these types of hardships, among others, firsthand. So the question that we strive to answer before, during, and after our trip is predominantly “How can we come together to best serve these children?”

Today was our last day of service, and I don’t even know where to start to explain the emotions running through my heart or the thoughts running through my mind. We began our day again at Jonathan’s Place- a center for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. We had the opportunity to work with the same children from yesterday and grow the relationships that we had previously established. The children at this facility were so hungry for love, guidance, and support. I am overwhelmed with pride for my team as I watched them foster such close bonds with these children in just two short days. I am truly honored to be able to share such rich and special relationships with the children. It was so rewarding and gratifying for me to see the amount of improvement in the behavior of the child that I had been working with over the course of these two days.

In the afternoon, we served at Wesley-Rankin, who we have been working with both indirectly and directly every day. Their goal is to provide resources to children to help them succeed. It was really difficult saying goodbye to the kids we’ve been serving there, but we plan on keeping in touch by being pen pals.

During our group reflection tonight, our team was immediately eager to share unforeseen ways in which the children had touched our hearts. Furthermore, through discussion, we broke down the “why?” behind how the relationships with these kids grew at such an accelerated rate. We identified the specific ways in which we served the children and the rationale behind the specific actions we chose to take. We found that with each precious heart, there is a different need. There is not a “one size fits all” mentality that can be used when serving children with abuse, abandonment, or neglect backgrounds. Within our service, we have assessed each individual child to see how we can best serve them- what s/he needs from us. Whether it was help with homework, a new friend, someone to share their story/feelings with, or just simply a play-buddy, the participants on our trip stepped up to the plate. I say with confidence that for this reason, the relationships between us and the kids grew in a light that radiated positivity.

I have never felt anything quite like the feeling I was left with during our departure at our two service sites today. On one side, I was swelling with happiness for our memorable experience together, but on the other side, I was full of sadness knowing that I would never see these beautiful smiling faces again. Today, we were reminded that although there are differences in the types of backgrounds between the children from each service site, that there are also many similarities. We were reminded that as we live our everyday lives, there is a high probability that we will see a child that has experienced one of these types of hardships. We were reminded that children with all types of pasts enjoy playing and learning in similar ways. We were reminded that most children have very little power in determining the situation that they are in now. We were reminded that each child is important, each child has potential, and each child deserves love. We were reminded that we can make a small but mighty impact.

A group photo of our Bear Breaks team and the 3rd - 5th graders at Wesley-Rankin.
A group photo of our Bear Breaks team and the 3rd – 5th graders at Wesley-Rankin.


My friend (and new pen pal) being silly after finishing some tough geometry homework!
My friend (and new pen pal) being silly after finishing some tough geometry homework!


One of the 4 signs that we made for the different classrooms at Wesley-Rankin.
One of the 4 signs that we made for the different classrooms at Wesley-Rankin.
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Indy Baby 4

I’m going to do a little recap of our service yesterday before tying it in to all of the happenings of today, because last night things were going a little crazy in the church. It all happened when we were already exhausted after playing mafia until the early morning hours, and still in need of showers before passing out on the gym floor. Some alarm was going off in the church and the custodian didn’t know how to turn it off, and we obviously didn’t know what to do about it, plus the WiFi wasn’t working for some reason, maybe in some relation to the rain and wind going on outside. So long story short, I didn’t get a chance to blog which was kind of sad because yesterday was my favorite day of service so far. We worked with a group called Growing Places Indy, which is an urban farm and non-profit organization. I just want to highlight how educated, accomplished, and inspired I felt after our work with them, because, like the other groups we’ve worked with, every person we met was incredibly passionate about the work they were doing. The two founders of the organization were a married couple who came back from living in Europe for two years with a vision for sustainability. With other jobs already established, they decided to go for it and follow their passion, which, to their pleasant surprise, turned into an awesome organization.

At the urban farm yesterday, we were able to find out how urban farms work and learn about the importance of simply being as educated as possible. It’s clear after our experiences yesterday that a little education can make a big difference, especially in our independent-minded generation. It was also great why Growing Places Indy wanted us to come out, because it wasn’t due to the fact that they needed us by any means. Most places we volunteer truly rely on volunteers to run, but this particular organization was very capable of doing all the work we did on their own, yet they were extremely excited to teach us about what they were doing. This is because they have found the key to making a difference. They have realized that in order to get their message and passion across to younger people, they have to educate them by showing them hands-on how to help accomplish what they are working towards. We listened to guest speakers share their perspectives, physically tilled their soil and planted seeds, harvested fresh onions and carrots (and ate the carrots which were delicious), and gained an astonishing amount of information, perspective, and initiative on making a difference in the world.

One interesting point Growing Places Indy focuses on is starting with yourself, which I really connected with. They made it clear that in order to help others and make a difference, you must start with yourself. This means knowing yourself and how to make yourself healthy, what your passions are, and just understanding who you truly are and what you stand for. Their motto is “Grow well, eat well, live well, be well” which is so inspiring to me. I especially love how they incorporate yoga into their organization, because I have a lot of experience with yoga and I understand the powerful effects it can have on the mind, the spirit, and the body.

Now, today was our free day, so I just want to touch on a couple of things. The most impactful part of today was definitely eating lunch at Cafe Patachou, because that is the restaurant that Growing Places Indy partners with and sells some of their produce to. I just have to say that the atmosphere of the restaurant was amazing. It was warm and inviting as well as fresh and modern. The food was fresh and clean and tasted amazing, especially knowing that it was healthy and local. It was such a great experience to eat locally in downtown Indianapolis and truly immerse ourselves in the local culture while supporting this wonderful group we had the chance to learn so much about the day before. This really shows how much of an impact the organizations we are working with are having on our group, because we all collectively agreed to go to Patachou after previously deciding on a different restaurant for today. I know that we are all happy we changed our plans, and I love how connected the members of our group are. This experience is becoming more and more valuable and memorable to me with each passing day, each new experience, each in-depth reflection, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be here right now. I can’t wait to share more with you about our group in my final blog, when I will wrap up all of my feelings about this eye-opening journey. friends


Catch you later!


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Rose Gardens and Revolutionaries

Today in Atlanta, we visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. historical site and memorial. It was a very educational, intriguing, and once-of-a-lifetime experience.

The day started off like any other: with a ride on the metro, a walk around the district, and the longing for coffee at eight in the morning. When we got to the site, though, we were greeted by a friendly park ranger/tour guide and TJ, the Rose Man. They explained to us what needed to be done in the rose garden and we got to work!

My first job was putting little black pieces on the end of a foot-long piece of tubing (I think it was for the irrigation system). It may sound simple, but this was no easy task. The pieces were stubborn and my hands grew sore after just a few minutes of aggressively twisting. Our group was delighted when it was time to switch to a less demanding job!

Next, we dug holes where roses needed to be planted. I enjoyed digging, but it took no time at all with all of us working. TJ said, “This is a real-life example of ‘many hands make light work.’ ” I couldn’t agree more, TJ! In a manner of hours, there was no more work to be done.  I had a chance to read the various poems engraved in stones around the garden. It was inspiring to see how, globally, youth were responding to Dr. King’s work and the meaning of world peace.

After that, our group walked around the museum and learned more about MLK’s life. I learned so much about his childhood, his parents and siblings, and his wife, Coretta Scott King. It was amazing to see how their philosophies made a profound impact on the world. After lunch, we were treated to a tour around the neighborhood. We saw Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King’s resting place, Dr. King’s childhood home, and the church he co-pastored. I am grateful for the chance to have gained this insight into MLK’s life.

After our tour, we hopped on a street car to the Centennial Olympic Park. My tourist side was delighted by playing in the fountains, shopping in the World of Coke’s gift shop, and exploring inside the CNN building. Various gardens and statues caught our attention. We even found ourselves wandering inside the stadium where the Atlanta Hawks play (not that I have ever had an interest for the NBA)! It was a fun afternoon of exploring.

By the time our group had showered and feasted on chili and quesadillas, we were ready for more adventure. We took the vans to China-town. It was so neat to see all the different cultures residing together in one part of town, not just Chinese but Hispanic, Korean, and a little bit of French. The Chinese grocery store was intriguing, but the milk bubble tea was an experience I’ll never forget!

Today was a day of history, of service, of gratitude, and of laughter. I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve gained in just a few short days. I came to Georgia to do volunteer work, but I’m learning so much more. I’m learning that urban development is an incredibly complex issue and that gardening is really fun. I’m learning that Springfield and Atlanta have more in common than one might think. Mostly, I’m learning how to be a leader in the community and I’m ready to share that when I get home!



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