At Missouri State University, our Center for Community Engagement offers immersion trips during official breaks in the semester such as Fall and Spring break, these trips are called Bear Breaks. Undergraduate and graduate students alike are able to apply to go on these trips, which include multiple service projects, structured reflection, and group bonding as you explore the area/city that you are traveling to serve. Each trip focuses on a social issue that falls into the social justice realm.
Early in the fall semester, I was approached with an opportunity from the Center for Community Engagement to serve as an advisor for one of their fall break immersion trips. Having had experience in alternative break trips at my undergraduate institution, I thought this would be a great opportunity to get involved with service projects through Missouri State without having to step too far outside of my comfort zone. I knew that this would also be an opportunity for me to meet new undergraduate students, as well as new graduate students at Missouri State University. I feel very fortunate to have been selected to be an advisor for the trip. This was an opportunity that allowed me to connect with students, problem solve, lead difficult conversations, and support the undergraduate leadership team who plan, schedule, and implement the service trip as a whole. Though I expected that this was going to be an impactful trip for me as well as the students participating, I far underestimated the impactfulness of this trip not only for me but for the students I advised.
The trip I helped advise traveled to Oklahoma City, where were we focused on the social issue of homelessness and hunger. During the first service project, we served meals to homeless individuals through an organization called the City Rescue Mission. In particular, I feel this service project was one of the most impactful for our students who attended. For most of them, they had never seen, or interacted with someone from the homeless community, so to be able to serve them food, and talk with them, was a huge eye-opening experience for these students. The next day we were able to serve at the Regional Area Food Bank of Oklahoma, where groups of students served in the protein packing center as well as the product packaging center. That Saturday alone we were able to package and prepare 19,585 total pounds of food – that equates to approximately 16,320 meals for individuals in need in central Oklahoma. The third day we were able to serve at an organization called the Homeless Alliance, where we served in their garden by cleaning, potting, and planting. The flower beds that our students cleared will be used to grow flowers that homeless individuals can then sell to make money for themselves. This flower selling initiative alone has made individuals enough money to pull them out of homelessness, which is truly incredible.
Overall one of the most exciting parts of this trip is that it is led by one undergraduate student. The student is charged with planning, and implementing the entire trip as well as for decision making, and delegation of tasks. Thus, meaning that Bear Breaks provides an opportunity for students to get engaged in the community, while also providing opportunities for students to lead ethically. In addition, traveling to new areas also pushes students to become more culturally competent, meaning that this opportunity touches all three pillars of the Missouri State Public Affairs Mission. Overall, I would highly recommend for undergraduate and graduate students to take advantage of this amazing opportunity as you will come out of it changed for the better.
Logan Elliott, Grad Assistant, New Student & Family Programs