Making Genuine Connections

I hadn’t expected much from my Branch Out trip. Upon entering the lottery, I
hadn’t considered the experience I would have past the fact that I didn’t have
Spring Break plans and was unlikely to get any within a week, so taking a
chance on an Alternative Break might give me something to do. I didn’t get my
first choice. In fact I got my third or fourth choice—I can’t remember just
how I’d ranked my choices at this point. I was somewhat bothered, but in the
end I spent fewer hours in a car, so things went better than expected. Overall,
upon entering into the Alternative Breaks experience, I was nonplussed—just
looking for a few easy service hours and an escape from boredom.

I started to worry once my group started meeting; everyone seemed rather invested
in the trip and what they assumed we were going to accomplish. Startlingly so,
actually. The lot of them truly seemed to believe we would make waves in the
community in which we were placed by power of sheer determination and good
will. I was skeptical to say the least. All the same, I went along with everything. Whatever anyone else was searching for, I knew what I was going for—a week away where I’d do some localized good and some homework in the meantime while shirking chores my mother might have drummed up for me at home.

Arriving in Baltimore and beginning work completely upended my neat schematic for how the week would progress. There was virtually no way to passively participate
and extricate oneself from the cohesiveness and unity the service organizations
we visited provided us. In fact, it was more exhausting trying to remain
detached rather than wholeheartedly devoting myself and truly interacting.
Being around people—our group and those volunteers and employees who devote
their whole lives to this sort of service—who care so deeply about the work
they do and the difference they hope to make is overwhelming. Emotions run high
when selflessness like what I witnessed is so abundant, at least for me. After
a week of being immersed in the struggles of those suffering from hunger and
homelessness in the grips of poverty, your own privilege becomes wildly
apparent and walls come down. And that is when progress spreads, not only
outwardly into the community in which you hope to alleviate some burden, but in
your own experience.

Ultimately Branch Out was everything I expected and feared, but I came out the better for it. By shrugging off some of the emotional detachment that sinks in during the
school year I was able to make genuine connections with people in an honest and
positive way all while, in a slight and special way, improving the surrounding
community.

by Molly Bashay