By LAURA SANCHEZ, Opinions Editor
I don’t usually struggle to find words, but finding the exact ones to convey my thoughts on my experience going on an alternative spring break trip last week has been quite the issue. There are no words to really describe my feelings and thoughts about my experiences serving in different Cleveland non-profit organizations, visiting diverse neighborhoods, and meeting inspiring civic leaders.
I was excited to travel and volunteer, but I didn’t realize that I would get so much out of this weeklong experience. Not only did I get to serve first-hand in a different area of the United States, but I also got to bond with the 12 other amazing members of my group during this entire adventure and create unforgettable experiences that I’ll still laugh about weeks to come.
Volunteering at different non-profit organizations gave us such a different perspective on service, community involvement, and civic leadership. Urban poverty was the focus of our trip, but what I enjoyed was not necessarily focusing on poverty as a problem, but rather, on the solutions and ventures that so many non-profits use to address the roof of these problems. These solutions are the ones that are slowly, but surely, making the Cleveland community a better place.
We volunteered at unique organizations that are doing so much for the Cleveland community, as we saw how they addressed different pressing needs that arise throughout the whole city. This trip gave urban poverty a more humane focus, one that is filled with experiences and images that I will never forget. I’ll never forget volunteering at a clubhouse that demonstrated how people with mental illnesses can lead productive, rich lives from help from their community. We saw crisis nurseries give opportunities for parents to get back on their feet after harrowing experiences. We assisted with ESL classes in a refugee service agency and s aw how these migrants are successfully building their lives in the United States. One day, a few of us packed at least 1,600 lunches at a food bank. Another day, we visited a Boys and Girls Club and got the opportunity to interact with many Cleveland children at an afterschool program. After all of these visits, it’s safe to say that we had an excitement in our bones that can only come after serving the community in a fulfilling manner and observing so many of these non-profit leaders be excited and motivated by their civic ventures.
We also discovered so many similarities between Cleveland and Detroit and had the opportunity to talk about Detroit in a way that many of these Cleveland residents understood. They understand how a city can go from greatness and industry into a city doomed by blight and urban poverty. They didn’t talk about Detroit in a demeaning, belittling way that so many others do. They talked about Detroit (and Cleveland) in an understanding way. They understand how these cities are being revived and recognize the large efforts that are doing so. Visiting Cleveland also made me realize how little I know about Detroit – how little I know about the neighborhood I live in, how little I know about the non-profit organizations that operate in my backyard. I think I speak for everyone in my group when I say that observing how Cleveland operates as a city gives me an itch to go exploring my own city and discovering its gems that we’re blind to.
When I told people that I was taking a service trip to Cleveland over spring break, I got many similar reactions, “Wait… you’re going to Ohio? Why?!” and “What’s in Cleveland?” I didn’t discourage the reactions or behavior, because I had my own biases and misconceptions about Cleveland myself. I didn’t know that city was struggling in a similar way that my own city, Detroit, was struggling. I didn’t know how active and how revitalizing the energy was. I didn’t know that Cleveland is a city of wonder, hope, and revival, or how the same passion I hold for the city of Detroit is the same that many in Cleveland hold for their own city. Cleveland and Detroit are both ‘coming back,’ and it’s really exciting to realize that my group’s service in both cities is a small part of that larger force.