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

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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42 Regular

Today our #AtlantaBears worked at the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency. Although this was not our first day with the organization, it was still impactful. Yesterday our group learned about how ACSS helps individuals in Atlanta who are facing homelessness, poverty, job loss, and other situations that would create a need of support in career building. ACSS gives these at risk individuals the tools and career oriented education needed in order to obtain and sustain employment. Today we got to put our education into action by eating lunch with their VIP’s (their clients), assisting them with resume building/job searching, and picking out appropriate business attire.
I got assigned to help out with their clothing closet, which basically consisted of packed boxes due to a recent location move and little space for all the items to go. Donated items such as suits, dress shirts, shoes, and more were completely overflowing the tiny hallway space we had for organizing, but many hours later we finished sorting everything and noticed noticed something interesting about the suits- most were size 42 regular. We didn’t think too much about this, since that size is pretty common, until the VIPs starting looking for interview attire. None of the men fit into that cookie cutter shape that seemed to be so popular in the donation bin. Some needed larger, some smaller, and each man’s preferred style showed through as they searched through the “uncommon” suit sizes. When we finally found each person a suit to represent who they were individually, size and style, we could see the transformation in confidence as they begin to feel more comfortable for the job fair just a week away. Just like each suit, each VIP’s personality was unique, which allowed us to learn so much from them in the little time we served them.
For our students that got to assist with resume buildings and job searching, learning about the talents and skills of the VIP’s also showcased how experienced their individuals could be. One woman could speak three languages, while another man had over twenty years of experience in his field. Although the VIP’s were in this transitional time between homes or jobs, this experience reiterated that situations like these are not due to an individual making bad choices or being lazy, but often is due to company cuts, a poor education experience, a lack of social capital and more. Being exposed to all the barriers the VIPs had to face to get a career, such as a lack of appropriate clothing, less access to technology and phones, less transportation options, and more, proved that their individuals have to work twice as hard as the typical applicant to have a shot at landing a career of their choice.
Not every VIP was a suit size 42 regular, so why should their career choices be limited to only a small handful of low income positions? Through this experience, I want to share that others (that means you reading this) should look beyond the social stigmas applied to poverty and homelessness and see that this population is as diverse, talented, and experienced as many other applicants that walk into an interview or that walk into your life.

P.S.
For more information about ACSS, please visit AtlantaCSS.org!

 

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NOLA Day 4

Today was our last day of service with Habitat! Over the last four days, our group of 12 has grown so much. Through reflections, physical labor, constant encouragement, and lots of laughs, this group of 12 individuals became a team. I have enjoyed getting to be a trip leader for such an awesome group. I am so sad our trip is almost over, but I am very excited to bring what we have learned in NOLA back to Springfield. Being immersed in NOLA has revealed to me the importance of a community and the lack of that in Springfield. People here genuinely care about their neighbors and use them for support. This is something that I see a lack of in Springfield and hope to bring this back to Springfield. Having a strong sense of community and support from your community can change it in a positive way drastically. I know this is something I want to share with others when I get back to Springfield and I am so excited to do so!

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After school program with middle school students in Atlanta-Collin (Boyuan) Cheng

My name is Collin (Boyuan) Cheng, this is my first time join the Bear Breaks Program of MSU, and it is such a wonderful volunteer experience in my college life. We volunteered after school activities with children from Bright Futures House on yesterday. I am in the group played Volleyball with the Children, after have a long day in classroom they look pretty tired and very excited for play game. I totally understand them cause when I was in school I was looking forward the activities after classes everyday. I felt so great the moment when we get point children came to surround me gave me a five, that moment told myself: that’s what I want to do. I really enjoyed play with them, we had a lot of fun. After volleyball game, we set tougher had dinner with them, we talked a lot during the dinner. They told me what they love to do after school and they really like this after school program because so many different volunteer groups come there ever week. They also ask a lot of questions about my hometown (China), some of them told me when they graduate in high school they want to apply go to study abroad. I encouraged them keep that in mind and told them my own experiences about study in US and I joined study away program of MSU went to Europe last summer. I saw a lot of naivete trueness from their lovely eyes, which is the true love.

Tomorrow will be the last day of our trip, after this trip I want to do more and more Volunteer activities in the future. Thanks for this program help me make a meaningful Missouri statement in my college life!

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Transformative Service

By Jordan Ford

Today was a beautiful day in Chicago.
Yesterday’s snow was still on the ground this morning but the air was crisp and the sun was out- the mini blizzard had passed.

We arrived St James food pantry this morning with expectations. Our group had worked at food pantries earlier in the week, and we learned something each time. When we began handing out food at St. James, I knew what to say and how to act much better than I did the first day. For example, I learned that it is important to ask people if they want a food item instead of assuming they do- some people prefer oranges to apples, others won’t take beans etc. The first day, this surprised me. But as we continued to serve, it made more sense- of course people don’t want food that will only go to waste at their house.
So today, when we began handing out food, I knew to say “would you like oranges” instead of “here are your oranges.” This was a small change in word choice but a big change in attitude.

The biggest thing I learned today was the importance of thank yous and good mornings. Addressing people as “sir” and “ma’am” and asking how they were doing this morning transformed our day of service. The leader of St James reminded us that sometimes a thank you is all someone has to give you.
This resonated with our group and there were many tears in reflection. It was a wonderful way to end our trip.

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Revitalization through Relationships

By Analise Reed

Today was probably the most eye opening day of service. Being a trip leader, I have seen and learned a lot throughout my experiences. Today we worked with the non profit called Rebuilding the Wall. This group shared their story with us, and it brought tears to not only their eyes, but mine as well. Mary was a social worker who moved to the roughest neighborhood of Indy to form close relationships with the people in the community. Keep in mind Mary is a white middle class woman who would not typically be seen in this kind of area. This is how she met her husband, Chris. Together they wanted to do something to promote economic sustainability within their community. They started their non profit to invest back in the locals. They restored houses and prepared individuals for home ownership that without them, may not have ever had the chance to own one. These two opened their home to their community. They had everything from violent threats, people shot in the house, to even being hit by a bus. These two still persevere despite the struggles they had faced as a nonprofit. They are just recently getting back on their feet since the accident. I was incredibly touched by their story. These two did not go into that neighborhood to “fix” it. They went in to promote the community. Each side was benefiting and one did not think it was better than the other. I truly think they represent what it means to serve. They saw an opportunity and ran with it. I think many people could learn a thing or two from their practices.

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Ice Cream is Better in Denver- Kellie Seamen

Today was our last day of service at the hospital and I am sad that we had to leave the sweet kiddos we met.  I feel like I grew as a person and as a leader during our time here. I learned through the people around me, everyone was able to bring something awesome to the trip. It was awesome to see our group grow closer and be able to open up more as the trip continued. We were able to have more difficult talks that lead us to understanding the various social issues the Denver area faces.

I am so passionate about child life and the role they play in the hospital so I could go on and on. Although during this trip I was able to grow in other ways. The hospital helped me realize the importance of communication and the different barriers that it may bring. In the hospital there are people of different race and cultural background who may not speak the same language as me. Before I may have shied away but with this trip I got stronger in how I communicate with them. The parents are whom I struggle with the most. I understand that children can communicate through play; no matter what language you speak. But how do I communicate with the parents and engage them in the activity?  I was able to use hand gestures and facial expressions to help communicate what I wanted to say. Or I got someone else who could guide him or her where they needed to be.

One amazing thing we got to do on this trip was being on Seacrest Radio in Children’s Colorado.  We had a lip sync battle with other participants and I felt somewhat out of my comfort zone but the people around me made it fun. The group is so positive and has a great outlook, because someone always has it harder than you. This trip has been filled with laughter and jokes, along with meaningful conversations that move us closer to being active citizens.

Denver is gorgeous and I have loved being able to explore everything. So far we have been to nature and science museum, Lookout Mountain, red rocks, and union station! We have literally been going all day every day. Tonight was our night out and we ate at Rosie’s Diner. It’s local and has the best food; we even got to pick out some music! I feel like I am talking very sporadically but there is so much that we have seen and done that I know I am missing a lot. I am so grateful for this opportunity and the people on this journey with me.

 

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HIV and AIDS: Helping, Fixing, or Serving?

Day four in Asheville consisted of education. Today our team visited Loving Food Resources and WNCAP (Western North Carolina AIDS Project), two organizations that serve people who are living with HIV and AIDS. We were able to tour and learn about each organization and the different needs they meet within the community. By the end of our visit, each of us left with more knowledge on a topic that is often stigmatized.

Our afternoon consisted of seeking out waterfalls, and souvenir shopping in the little mountain town of Brevard, North Carolina. The temperature was also the warmest we’ve seen all week (44 and sunny) so overall it was a great day. In our evening reflection we discussed the differences between helping, fixing, and serving in terms of how we see the world and engage in our communities. I’ve listed the definitions below if you’re interested:

Helping– when you help, you work to strengthen something that is perceived as weak. Helping is not a relationship among equals. Helpers see others as weaker than they are… in helping, we run the risk of taking away from others more than we could ever give – diminish self-esteem, their sense of worth, dignity.”

Fixing– involves mending something that is perceived to be broken. We respond with our expertise. Fixers trust their own expertise but may not see what others bring, their gifts. We are sure we are always right.”

Serving– involves wholeness and seeing the connections among all people. This is the notion of caring that Nel Noddins writes about: When serving, we serve who we are – with our weaknesses, wounds, and strengths. Pain can be a source of compassion, my woundedness the the key to my empathy. Serving is a relationship among equals – our service strengthens us as well as others. In serving, we recognize that our humanity is more important than our expertise.”

Based on these definitions, it is easy to identify Loving Food Resources and WNCAP as organizations that strive to serve others, rather than helping or fixing them. Both of these non-profits in the Asheville community serve those living with HIV and AIDS by meeting people right where they are. There is no judgement, and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

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Homeless and Hopefulness

I have lived in Springfield for twenty years. I know all the street corner names, best coffee shops, and the best restaurants in town. However, if you asked me about the homeless situation in Springfield, I would respond with something along the lines of, “It’s a problem.” That’s it. I could name a few statistics about homelessness but it was something I rarely kept in mind. This day at Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville changed my entire perspective on homelessness.

I sat next to a man named Rusty. Yes, his name was Rusty. He was quiet and gave the impression he wanted nothing to do with me. It was awkward and my initial reaction was to get up and talk to someone else but something was telling me to stay. After a couple of strenuous minutes, he began to ask me questions about myself. What was my name? Where am I from? And did I believe in God? The third question threw me off guard and I told him my view point on religion. I could feel he wanted to tell me about God and his connections with Him. I could hear the passion behind his stories how much God meant to him. In one story, Rusty explained to me that he was going through a tough time with addiction. He told God he wanted to see something white and pure and be reminded that His presence was with him. The next morning, he woke up and there were six white roses directly outside of his tent.

The main part that speaks to me is that Rusty had nothing. He had a shaggy beard and backpack for the past seven years in Ashville. However, I can distinctively remember the love he had for God and how much he wanted me to find that love. Such a wonderful emotion that touched me to a place in my heart that has been gated in years.

This day at Haywood taught me that we are all human. It does not matter if you are from Springfield or Ashville, housed or homeless, Christian or not; we are all capable of sharing and receiving love.

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Bears emerging in new territory: North Bearolina

This morning was the earliest we had to get up; however, we all motivated each other to get up and get the ball rolling. Today was more of a learning experience for us, which was nice for once to learn more about the organization as a whole and all the services they offer. We started at the Loving Food Resources food pantry, which is unique from other food pantries in that they provide free food resources and more to people who have been affected by HIV/AIDS or are in home hospice care with any diagnosis. The main reason they started this organization was that people with these circumstances do not always have enough income to afford both medical expenses and food for themselves and/or family. We received a tour of the place and saw volunteers organizing the shelves for their clients to come in and shop that upcoming Saturday. Fresh foods are also provided at this food pantry which is something that is not always present in some food pantries.

After we toured the food pantry, we drove over to the WNCAP (Western North Carolina Aids Project) building to learn more about the HIV/AIDS prevalence in North Carolina. What I, as well as others in our group, found very interesting, is that WNCAP has a needle exchange program. We have learned recently that Ashville has had an increasing rate of heroin users in their population over the past few years or so. The needle exchange is a harm reduction program that provides clean needles for people and does not question them about why they are using the needles. Having clean needles reduces the chances of HIV/AIDS being spread through blood if one were to reuse the same needle on another person (sharing a needle among two people). This provides a safe place for people to come and get what they need and they can even shower there if they need the resources to do so. WNCAP offers anyone who needs something in a pinch such as the ability to be clean and do laundry as well as giving people resources to receive help if they are struggling with addiction or getting resources for ones who have HIV/AIDS. There are so many different types of things that WNCAP offers to the community to help make the community more healthy all around.

After learning about both the cool nonprofit opportunities/resources we decided to venture out into the beautiful outdoors of North Carolina and explore some waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest. It was good way to relax and get some fresh air with it being our first decently warm day out in the sun. Even though this week is going by fast, I have already learned so much and have gained a new perspective on serving communities. I can not wait to bring this attitude back with me to Springfield and share this perspective with my peers at Missouri State.

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