It is a wondrous feeling knowing that no matter how much you write or how detailed your writing is regarding an experience, as soon as you finish you realize there is still more. Be it a simple action, a smile, or even a thought, every second becomes another page. I am fortunate to have had such an experience this past spring break on my VISION trip. I can safely say if you believe I am hyperbolizing you have not yet gone on a VISION trip, have you?
Every fall I saw countless fliers for upcoming VISION trips. I’ve heard several personal testimonies and have had personal encouragements to apply. I am ashamed to admit that until this semester I had ignored them all, at least partially. I was fully aware of the VISION trips and I knew all the factual information: deadlines, cost, trip destinations, etc. However, I failed to understand past that. I failed to recognize that everyone who returns from these trips has only positive things to say. I failed to see that each of these students commits to bettering the world around them. A world in which I live contentedly, and have never made a serious effort to improve. I can turn off lights at night or turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth, but that is about as much as I’ve ever done.
When this year’s assortment of fliers, offline and online, came out, something was different. This year I looked at the VISION forms. I read through all the site locations and the application process. By the time I was done, I was more than committed to applying. It was as if my vision widened. I saw beyond myself and I was disappointed. Both in how limited I was looking before, and what it was I saw. I was primarily concerned with social justice issues and set New York as my primary decision. From the summary of the New York trip I understood my group would be primarily concerned with people living without permanent shelter, and working at soup kitchens and different service banks. To have done this alone I would have considered my trip a complete success; however, what actually unfolded was so much more.
Within a week of filling out the application I received the confirmation e-mail. Great, I was going on a VISION trip. However, at this point I’m still a while away from New York. As a student who spends most of his time behind computers dealing with strict logistics, I had to admire the entire VISION process. After the successful spark the next part of the process ensured the proper “fuel,” as it were, to ensure a successful trip. I could easily liken the process to a machine with feelings. The next step after confirmation was an interview. My interview was great, to say the least. It was full of fun and engaging conversation that helped my VISION leader and I get to know each other. We shared silly stories, answered emotional questions, and even had time to watch kittens on YouTube.
At this point, I had long since forgotten whatever apprehensions I may have had about VISION. More time passed as my eagerness for spring break rose. Not to go home and play video games as I always have, nor to see friends from other schools. I was looking forward to spring break so that I could make a difference in someone’s life. So I could learn about another aspect of society that I’ve been personally blind toward for my entire life.
And then I met my group. Over the deafening sound of this metaphorical engine would be the laughter of every single member of our group. That is when we weren’t sharing personal stories, giving reflections, or singing (off-key, I might add). Little did I know what would form from the nine people, some of whom I knew and the others who were strangers. A few get-togethers and we were off to New York. I’d say we were going 60 mph while parked outside Common Ground at 4:00 a.m. waiting to head out. If you don’t happen to know this off the top of your head New York is about 1,200 miles away. And we were going to drive every one of them in a 12-person van. Needless to say, personal space does not last long. In retrospect, the limited space is more a convenient excuse than the actual reason we got close. Let’s face it, people make better pillows than a window or door.
As I said earlier I could go on and on about every aspect of this trip, and in all honestly I would love to, but not here, I’m afraid. Definitely in person, and maybe in another piece of writing. Highlights of our drive include a night in a (possibly haunted) convent, Palm Sunday in Mogadore, Ohio, and pizza at a restaurant/drive-thru convenience store. We danced to Miley Cyrus outside a fast food restaurant. Some (make that one, Sarah) of us made peanut butter and banana sandwiches. And of course, there was singing. Be it Justin Bieber, Lil’ Wayne, or Frank Sinatra, if we heard it, we sang it. Our last great triumph had to be a “jumping” photo shot in New Jersey – six failures later and I’m not sure if we ever really got it right. Keep in mind all of this is just on the trip out there.
At last we arrived in New York. We couldn’t help but mention that we had not even truly begun our VISION trip. Of course the VISION trip truly encompasses everything from my application to this reflection, but we had not done any service work. It was service work that had prompted me to begin this trip and at this point I’d have categorized my expectations as unrealistically high. Perhaps I have a have a poor understanding of “unrealistically high,” but I believe the VISION trip simply met and exceeded all conceivable expectations. Without overstating anything, I am a different person compared to before I left. It would be impossible to see and do the things we did without changing. Stereotypes: shattered. Understanding: widened. Vision: granted.
We were placed in the heart of this country’s largest city. We opted to face injustice and instead of shying away from it we tried to make a change. I am no fool, though. I know poverty and homelessness exist now just as they did several weeks ago. I did not find anyone a home, nor did my work give people employment. However, while in New York we helped give Eddie, a former gang member from El Salvador, a hot meat. We assisted Dolores and “The Dragon Lady” feed 100 people while it rained outside. Carmen’s summer distribution will hopefully go off without a hitch so as to clothes thousands of people in comfortable and fitting attire. Eighty families will receive keyboards for their sixth grade children, cleaned by our hands. This is only a part of the work a fraction of our group did. We were separated into two groups, meaning even more efforts were put to good use of which our group has no memories.
In addition to our physical efforts, I would personally attest to the fact that all 10 of us gave 100 percent toward our mental awareness of the issues at hand. Working through Youth Service Opportunities Project, we were educated on a variety of topics and listened to firsthand experiences of living on New York’s streets or losing one’s home. When listening to speakers we were able to give thoughtful questions and receive helpful answers. For instance, unaware of how to respond to people asking for money, we were informed of potential responses that we would later use that resulted in success. We all left with the drive to do more after leaving New York. We realized that every minute we gave to helping someone else counted for so much more than just 60 seconds. In fact, we were given the opportunity to challenge ourselves through a letter Y.S.O.P. will hold onto for one month before sending it back to us. We wrote, sealed and addressed the letter to ourselves on our last day with Y.S.O.P.
In spite of what I originally expected, the return trip was not met with sadness or despair. While leaving New York was not an easy task, there was and still is so much more to look forward to. It is unfathomable that any of us will forget our spring break. Nor will we forget the faces of those we helped and the feeling we got doing so. Amongst the niceties exchanged on a daily basis, never have I felt a more earnest “thank you” than by a nameless man with no teeth who merely smiled at us after receiving a simple dinner of a donut, steamed vegetables, chicken, mashed potatoes and hot dogs (all right, no one actually took the mashed potatoes). These memories are priceless to me and like all other important aspects of my life, will help shape my disposition and actions in the future.
P.S. Kari Jo, Kristen, Lj, Adam, Steph, Lexy, Sarah, Lilla and Myke – I love you guys.