Pulling into Washington D.C. at 7:30 a.m., two hours earlier than we had expected something hit me. It wasn’t the stale car smell from being in the car since 10 p.m. It wasn’t everyone commenting on the amount of seafood restaurants, which is odd. What hit me was the fact that I was a site leader for this break. My co-site leader and I had the power to, in theory, make or break this break. Looking back, I realize how dramatic I was but at the time I could feel the pressure. During my 2015 spring break, I spent my time leading along side another amazing Central Michigan University student (she’s the princess of CMU). We traveled down to Washington D.C. with a group of 9 students. The mission of our week was to work along side the Beacon House staff.
The Beacon House is a nonprofit, community-based organization that provides tutoring, mentoring, cultural, athletic, recreation, and nutrition programs to at-risk, low-income children, ages 5-18, who reside in and around the Edgewood Commons community in Ward 5 of Washington, D.C. This mission is to assist at-risk youth to identify and pursue educational objectives that culminate in college or vocational training, and, more generally, to prepare them for productive involvement in their community and society. Since 1991, when Beacon House was founded, their goal has always been to lift as many children as possible up and out of their often difficult circumstances.
During the first half of the day we helped clean and organized the facility in preparation for their Black History Month celebration. The Black History Month celebration had been postponed due to weather. The second half of the day we spent with the kids. We did homework, read and hung out. These were some of the sweetest and most interesting students I have ever met.
One Monday morning at 7:30 am I clicked the link to attend the Deaf Awareness Alternative Winter Break. Deaf Awareness is such a broad topic so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there are Deaf and deaf people in the world. I knew some American Sign Language but I didn’t know what I was in for. Our break left December 13th for Washington D.C. We were told that for the first half of our day we would work with Deaf REACH. Service: UNKNOWN. The second half of our day would be spent at the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School on Galludet University’s campus. Service: Working with children. General enough.
So what did we end up doing?
During the first service we worked together to 1. Pack over 600 Safe Sex Kits, 2. File paperwork, 3. Shred years of papers 4. Design information business cards, 4×6 cards, T-shirts and, 5. Decorate office door displays. This service was one of the most rewarding jobs because we could see our work getting done. We were able to see progress through out the week. What does this have to do with Deaf Awareness? Well, half of the staff is Deaf and uses American Sign Language as their primary language. The week was spent pushing ourselves to learn new signs, sentence structure and practice communicating with people within the Deaf community. Instead of the staff giving us “volunteer work” which usually breaks down to just filing and cleaning, they took us on as ‘staff.’ They gave us real projects. They made our time feel meaningful because we were giving them real work.
At Kendall Demonstration School we worked in two separate groups. Half of the group spent time with the Kindergarten and younger kids while my group worked with 1st-4th grade. This was another amazing time for us to learn signs we’ve never used before.
I can’t wait to take these signs back to my classes as I finish my American Sign Language minor. I find myself causally throwing signs into my daily life. I hope that in my future I will be able to find friends who are also interested in American Sign Language. It is so helpful when you’re far away from someone or in a loud area. In the last few years I have noticed a slow decline in my hearing and I hope that in my future I will be able it to communicate more clearly.
A few moments from our trip…
The final day with all of our Safe Sex Kits.
We learned about safe sex.
Our grow outside of Deaf REACH.
We traveled by Metro.
The Alternative Break program is one of the most awarding programs I have been blessed to be a piece of. I was lucky enough to click on ‘Youth Advocacy’ at 7:30 am back in October of 2013. The break didn’t set sail until March of 2014. Not only did I pick a topic that interested me, I also met 11 other amazing CMU students. During the week we worked at the Charleston Youth Development Center. The CYDC is an emergency shelter that takes in children who need a place to stay. Children are then either returned to their families through social service intervention or are able to stay at the shelter. We spent a week organizing their storage center while the children were at school. When the children came home was when the real fun started. We tutored the students until dinner time. Tutoring usually consisted of racing to finish homework so we could hang out. We sat around laughing, learning about them and just enjoying the children’s company. If you have the opportunity to give back to the world, I suggest you do it.