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March 26, 2010 / Meg

Back to Reality

[Warning: very long post]

Last week was one of the best weeks of my life. As part of my position at the university I work for, I coordinate the Alternative Spring Break program.  For alternative breaks, students forfeit traditional spring breaks – whether that means going home or traveling to an exotic location – to instead volunteer their time and make a difference during their vacation.

This year, I planned three Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips for my university. We sent 16 students to Mammoth Cave National Park where they focused on environmental service.  They event got a super sweet “wild caving” tour at the end of the week.  Another 9 students went to Maryville, TN where they volunteered with Once Upon a Time in Appalachia.  They focused on rural poverty and Native American cultural preservation.  They got to go hiking and have an awesome outdoorsy time.  As for me, I led 14 students to New York City where we volunteered with Project Hospitality, an interfaith non-profit that feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, and cares for people with HIV/AIDS.

The trip started out rough – very rough.  The Saturday before all of the groups departed, I had to pick up the vans from Enterprise and bring them to campus.  My trip was flying to New York, while the other two would be driving to Tennessee and Kentucky.  I then went to my office to print out some subway directions to get from one famous NYC site to another.  Then, I got this really random email from our ticket vendor.  We bought tickets to the Lion King as a “thank you” for our students volunteering all week.  12 of our tickets did not actually exist.  I then spent about 3 hours trying to find tickets. It happened, miraculously.  Then I went to Walmart to get some last minute items – trial mix (of course), travel sized shampoo and conditioner for the airplane, etc.  I went back to my office to pick up something I had left there, when my phone rang.  It was JetBlue.  Our flight was canceled due to the nor’easter storm in New York.

Please note that if I wasn’t in my office at that particular moment, I would have never known our flight was canceled.  I then spent 5 hours on hold with JetBlue trying to rebook us onto a later light. When I finally got a hold of somebody, they said they couldn’t help me because it was a group flight.  They transferred me to the group extension (which isn’t an option when you call the 1-800 number).  At this point, it’s around 9pm.  The chances of 16 of us getting onto any flight – or even 2 or 3 flights – is slim to none.

So…I got transferred to the group line.  On the group line, I received an automated response saying “our office hours are Monday through Friday 8am to 7pm.”  This was Saturday evening.  It then said, “but if you leave a message, we will return your call as soon as we can.”  Then, another automated response saying “this mailbox is currently full.”  So, I couldn’t even leave a message.  Way to go JetBlue.

I then called every car rental place in Rock Hill and Charlotte.  All were closed on Sunday except those at the airport.  But at the airport they didn’t have 15 passenger vans.  Long story short, we got a good rental from Hertz, except they told me that the price was for both vehicles when it was actually only for one of them.  The manager lowered the price the next day, after we went to every other airline to try to get to NYC.  (Side note: the JetBlue people at the airport were FANTASTIC.  Please don’t use this story as a reason to dislike them, as I am certain they’re a great airline.  We just had an unfortunate situation and it can be difficult to deal with large groups while flying!)  We eventually got on the road at 1:30pm.  After staying in a hotel in Baltimore, we finally made it to Staten Island on Monday morning.

The service was AMAZING.  We volunteered everyday in a food pantry and served lunch in a soup kitchen.  We even had two educational seminars about poverty and HIV/AIDS in New York City. We listened to people as they shared their stories.  The primary volunteer we worked with all week was homeless and living on the streets just a few years ago, and today he volunteers with the organization that helped give him his life back.  What an example!  He told me that he can’t take any credit for the turnaround in his life; it’s all thanks to God.  It was touching to hear that from him, and I wish he knew how much of an inspiration he was to my group and to every person who walks into that food pantry/soup kitchen!!

We also heard people share their stories of living with HIV.  We met 4 HIV+ people, all of whom have been living with HIV for over 12 years.  It  was eye-opening and truly touching.

We were all exposed to poverty in a whole new light. Urban poverty isn’t as pressing of an issue in South Carolina as it is in New York City.  But all of us saw that these issues exist in our own communities.  We all were inspired to make a difference and be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

I must say that I had the most amazing group of students ever, and I’m thankful to be part of something so exciting and meaningful.

Aside from that, my overdue hiatus has been due to many seminary interviews.  I’ve made my final decision, but I won’t be posting it on here until I call all of the schools I’m not going to.  I wouldn’t want to disrespect them!!

But anyway, it’s back to reality for me.  Hopefully I’ll be posting more often!! 🙂

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