Caitlin Davis, a third-year social work student, writes about her experience as Team Leader for the Vancouver Alternative Spring Break Trip, a rewarding week that sends students around the world. 

When I was given the opportunity to blog about my experience as a Team Leader for an Alternative Spring Break trip, I was elated! I was so excited because Alternative Spring Break ( ASB) has hands-down been the best experience I have had as a Carleton student, and I frequently seek out ways of sharing my experience with other students, with the hope that they will get involved, too.

I was motivated to participate in ASB when I first began studying at Carleton. I had read a bit about it on the Student Experience Office (SEO) website and thought that it sounded right up my alley for several reasons. As a social work student, it was the practical, hands-on experience in a community other than my own that spoke to me. As a wanderlust, I jumped at the chance to travel to a new, unknown destination. As a person who believes in personal growth, the built-in reflection activities seemed exciting and enriching. And as a new student, I welcomed the opportunity to meet like-minded students who shared similar interests.

I had already participated in a similar service-learning trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico, during college, and I was looking for ways to have a deeper, more meaningful experience – which is why I applied to be a Team Leader. In my role, not only was I given the opportunity to travel, volunteer, and meet new people, but I got to take on additional roles that allowed me develop and enhance many skills.

I was selected as one of two Team Leaders for the Vancouver ASB trip. I was paired with Ashley, a fourth year law student – and I couldn’t have been luckier to have her as my co-leader. Unlike the international ASB trips, our group was not going to be working with one particular organization throughout our week of service, and Ashley and I were given a lot of free reign in the planning stages. First, we did some research on the area of Vancouver we would be working in: the Downtown East Side (DTES). We learned about the key issues that residents of the DTES face such as poverty, food insecurity, substance abuse, a lack of affordable housing, racial and cultural marginalization… just to name a few. Then, we looked at what support and resources were available in the community; and we created a master list of all the organizations we would be interested in volunteering with during our week in Vancouver. After a lot of phoning, emailing, and some rejection, we secured service over four days with three amazing organizations: The Living Room Drop In, a centre for adults with severe mental illness; The Downtown East Side Neighbourhood House, which uses food as a communicative instrument in community building with low-income residents of the DTES; and The Door Is Open, a drop-in centre and soup kitchen for those who are homeless or living in poverty.

We also connected with activists and organizations working towards large social change in the area. We planned one day to meet with these groups and learn about community capacity building, human rights, and social justice. We heard an inspiring and moving speech from an employee at Insite, who spoke to providing compassionate care to all persons. We met with lawyers and activists at Pivot Legal Society, who take issues, brought to them by members of the DTES, and then challenge laws and policies that undermine the dignity of people living on the margins. Lastly, we went to the Carnegie Community Centre, known as the living room of the DTES, which caters to the low-income community.

Ashley and I were not just responsible for organizing days of service and connecting with guest speakers. We also had to facilitate meaningful and interactive reflections, many of which took place over periods of several hours at the end of what came to be very long and exhausting days of service. For me, the end-of-day reflection sessions were the most fruitful and meaningful parts of the trip. I got to hear 13 different perspectives on myriad issues, viewed subjects through many different lenses, and watched over the week as my group became closer, vulnerable, honest, and compassionate.

Beyond our Community Service Learning responsibilities, Ashley and I also had many logistical details to tend to. We had to figure out how to use an entirely new public transportation system, plan and map out bus routes, and manage the allocation of bus tickets (Ironically, after constantly reiterating “don’t lose your tickets!”, I was the only one who lost mine!). Additionally, we had to plan all of our lunches and dinners, make trips to the grocery store, and budget for our meals. In short, as Team Leaders, we definitely had our hands full!

Although we were busy – and certainly stressed at times – I gleaned so much experience and insight from the experience as Team Leader. My partnership with Ashley showed me how much more you can get done when you work in a team, and I also made a really good friend out of it, too. I learned how to manage my time well, prioritize tasks, forgive myself for small imperfections or errors, and to reach out and talk to many different types of people – student participants, partner organizations, clients at various organizations, etc. Most of all, I learned a lot about myself – my strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, this experience solidified my passion for the non-for-profit sector, working with volunteers, and supporting others in their development and personal growth.

The ASB Team Leader role has been unforgettable for me, and I would recommend participation to anyone who is passionate, motivated, and not afraid to make mistakes and learn new things!

Submitted by Caitlin Davis, a third-year social work student.

Learn more about Alternative Spring Break at carleton.ca/asb


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