We are American Medical Student Association (AMSA). AMSA was founded in 1950 and is the oldest and largest independent association of physicians-in-training in the US. We are a national student governed organization committed to address the concerns of physicians-in-training and equip them with experiences for their pursuits in the medical field. We created the alternative break trip in order to extend the physician learning experience beyond that of the limits of the classroom and the University of Michigan. Because Michigan can be exclusive of a variety of learning experiences, AMSA felt the need to expand the breadth of opportunity by offering a trip that provides a cost-effective way to understand more about public health, volunteering, and ourselves.
Working at Open Hand to package meals specifically designed for people who need correct portion sizes or foods in their diet
The following are testimonies from students that participated in the trip to Atlanta
Abby: Personally, I learned that I love working with nonprofit organizations. I also realized that there is a key component in working with nonprofit organizations—and that is the organization itself. On previous trips, some of the people we had worked with lacked compassion, and as participants on the trip, this lack of fervor and drive by those who were in charge of us made the work itself less appealing. However, on this specific trip, the Medici Project showed us what volunteering should be; the members of the organization rode with us and volunteered with us in order to not only make us feel comfortable, but also to ensure that we knew exactly what we needed to be doing in order to completely fulfill what was expected of us. The love they had for the work they were doing most definitely rubbed off onto my perception of the service, giving me a lot of that same love. I learned that the ability to work with others comes easy when everyone wants the same thing—which in this case, was to make a difference in the 5 days that we were given. Because everyone had chose to be there, and loved the work we were doing, it was exceptionally simple to keep things running efficiently and smoothly, while having a fantastic time doing so. This experience for me, more than anything, challenged my conceptualization of service and community engagement. Sitting down with Danyelle prior to the trip, she opened my eyes to something that hadn’t crossed my mind before, which was the fact that a larger percentage of service is somewhat selfish; students engage in service projects, yes, to help the people they are working with, but also, to feel “good” about themselves. Keeping this in mind as I embarked on this trip, I made sure to do everything I could to make this experience rewarding for the people we were working with rather than just myself. Although there was not much I could do at the time to make this less selfish, I vowed to do what I could next year as a member of AMSA to continue with the community service concepts that we had pursued on this trip, tying up loose ends and building more relationships with students like the ones we helped during our trip. This experience also made my world seem a little smaller—the everyday problems I face regarding rigor or difficulty of schoolwork, career choice, or just simply personal problems seem so trivial when dealing with issues on the trip like students not having school supplies at all, or hospitals not having the adequate supplies to work with for severe health problems in other countries. Things were put into perspective, and I was inspired to be kinder and more grateful to those around me after the trip.
Mackenzie: On the ASB trip I learned that I really love to learn about other city's cultures. I think that immersing ourselves in the culture of Atlanta really taught me that there is a lot to learn from spending time in a different environment than my own and I really enjoyed it. I learned that communication is key when working with others. It allows you to voice your needs but listening clearly to other's needs also creates a cohesive group. I think it challenged my idea of service to others because I think I did not understand the range of community needs and the range of opportunities for service. The trip allowed us to work on different projects and serve many different communities in Atlanta. I think this trip reinforced the idea that University of Michigan promotes which is to accept and be open to all backgrounds and communities and to always be willing to lend a hand to a peer.
Talking to High Schoolers about College at BEST Academy
Kelly: I learned how important community service is to me. I realized that one hour of my time doesn't seem like much, but it can make a world of difference for someone in need. I learned that when there is a common goal, we see how similar we all are instead of how different we are. Because we were working to help others, we were able to bond very quickly as a team. This project reminded me that with whatever I do in the future, I need to make sure that I am also spending time giving back to others. It reminded me just how important service and community engagement are. This experience challenged me because I had to work in a direct way with some of the societal problems that are sometimes forgotten about. It reinforced that I must treat everyone with kindness and respect, remembering that I don't know everything about their situation.
Dan: Through this alternative spring break trip, I have learned how important community service is to those that I help and to myself. My time and service is the most valuable thing I can offer and to see the faces of those that I have helped is priceless. When talking to the other volunteers that were not associated with our group, they told me the value of volunteering. One man in particular was retired and told me that he had increased the amount of time he volunteered the older he became because he understood the impact he was making was real. He became more and more aware that volunteering his time was a much more rewarding way to spend his time than any career. I think this speaks volumes to our society and what it values. Spending a week immersed in a community service trip opened my eyes to what should be valued in a life. The result was my own hyperawareness of what I can and should be focusing on in my life. Going forward I know I will be challenged with the pressure to value ideals that will contradict with what I have learned on this trip, but having experienced such a immersive volunteering trip I will have a constant reminder of what is truly important in my life. The experience will promote a drive to participate in local community service opportunities for my entire life.
Making delicious meals at a local soup kitchen in downtown Atlanta
Project Goals: Through this alternative break experience, we aspired to learn more about not only different types of community service, but more importantly, the dynamic of community service in Atlanta. There were so many different kinds of nonprofit organizations, run by so many different types of people, for so many different kinds of reasons—but, no matter what, they each had a story. For example, we worked with an organization called Open Hand. Walking into the facility, one would assume that it was just a regular packaging plant, giving out meals to the impoverished or homeless of Atlanta. However, when the leaders sat us down and debriefed us, giving us the broader picture of what the organization was about, we were fascinated. This organization worked to package not only meals, but exceptionally healthy meals, to people who were not just impoverished, but impoverished as a result of the bills and healthcare that comes with being chronically or terminally ill. Years ago, two men who had been severely affected by HIV AIDS started this organization in order to prevent the hardship that they had felt during their intense recovery processes regarding financial issues. They wanted to make sure that no one else that was terminally ill would ever go without a healthy meal at least once a day, which is how the organization came to life. This was most definitely a way that our goal was achieved—we wanted to make connections with the organization, not just walk in, do our work superficially, and leave. We wanted to understand why. On another note, regarding the dynamic of Atlanta itself, we were all surprised at the issues facing inner city high-schoolers. Upon visiting Best Academy, we worked with high-schoolers to complete their financial aid applications and answer questions about what a true college experience is like. Not only this, but we helped them think about their aspirations and career goals and what they are most passionate about. This taught us a lot about the city itself, because their principal explained to us that often times, if students did not enroll in an after-high school institution, a lot of them would end up becoming involved in gang violence, drugs, or other street crimes. Understanding that college was not only an option, but pivotal for these young students to stay out of trouble, represented the effects of living in an environment like Atlanta. This fulfilled our goal of understanding how location and dynamic of a big city itself can affect the types of community service that are needed there, and how community service needs are specific to certain regions—in each place, some issues need more intense attention than others.
Packaging medical supplies with MedShare to ship to third world countries
Acknowledgements: We would like to give a special thank you to the Ginsberg Center for the generous grant that helped us with funding for our trip. Also, thank you to the Medici Project. If it were not for your tenacious work ethic, intense compassion for community service, and knowledge of the city of Atlanta, I don’t think the participants would have been as inspired to work as hard as we did—it was truly a lead by example situation. Lastly, thank you to AMSA for giving us the opportunity to compose such an incredible service project for U of M students.