Posted: April 23, 2012 in GALLOP

I am confident the GALLOP NYC team of 2012 will never forget our Alternative Breaks experience. Not only did we learn about therapeutic riding and issues related to various disabilities for a semester, but we understood the site and the issues better for having spent the time learning about them.

Before we left for NYC we compiled an extensive list of reviews of apps targeted to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities. At the site in NYC we were able to talk to teachers about the apps and show them how they might be useful for students, and we got to learn how a teacher might use the apps in the classroom.

We also got to help with a study GALLOP is conducting, trying to prove that therapeutic riding results in real benefits for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities. We spent a day making a promotional video for GALLOP emphasizing that therapeutic riding helps people gain more independence in their daily life. The movement of the horse actually facilitates the rider’s connection to his/her body and allows him/her to gain more control while on the horse, and that the benefits persist even after the rider is off the horse!

As the GALLOP team does every year, we participated in the therapeutic lessons as side-walkers (meaning we walk alongside the horse to help ensure the rider’s safety), but this year I think the clients had a remarkable impact on members of the team and they really inspired us with their stories. One teenager we met had polio when she was younger, and she was able to go from being in a wheelchair to walking and riding all by herself because of her therapeutic riding lessons at GALLOP. Another client, a young man with Cerebral Palsy, had a great impact on all of us, and his mother told us he has been getting therapeutic riding at GALLOP for four years. When he started with the therapy, it required several people to keep him on the horse, but now he can ride unassisted at times even though he is not capable of walking!

During our last day at GALLOP we were able to do one last project for the site. We made “habitat buckets” for the instructors to use in the lessons. GALLOP frequently uses beanie babies in the lessons, and we made nine habitats for the various beanie babies. For example, the clients would have to “put the bird where the bird lives” (in the bucket with the nest or the trees). Then during the lessons that afternoon we got to see the buckets in action! The children really liked the new game, and it was great to see how we had contributed to GALLOP’s work.

Although we did help the site and contribute to their mission with our three projects, I think the biggest part of our experience at GALLOP involved learning from the site, the instructors, and the clients. As anyone in the Alternative Breaks program could tell you, these trips are about Service Learning, and we ultimately learned a lot from the site, the clients, and the instructors. It’s hard to sum up what we learned in words because everyone comes away having learned something a little different and having had our previous assumptions challenged in unique ways. It is safe to say that everyone returned from GALLOP NYC thinking a little differently about people with disabilities and the challenges they and their families face.


Tangelo Park 2012

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Tangelo Park

Coming back to Tangelo for the second year in a row, I realized why I look so forward to Spring Break. Unlike our peers, my team members and I experienced the pure bliss of the break without lounging on the beach or sleeping all week. Each night we went to bed exhausted, but so eager to wake up the next morning and get back to the work that we enjoyed so much. The first day visiting the Elementary school brought a whirlwind of emotions and insight for all of us. We were greeted by the school’s chorus and couldn’t help but shed a few tears in our amazement and awe. We were not only graced by the beautiful voices of the students, but we realized the truth in the words they sang; they realized their potential and knew they could succeed if they believed in themselves.  We proceeded into our respective classrooms and the week went uphill from there. I had never felt so welcomed and loved by a room full of strangers before walking into my Kindergarten class. They welcomed me with a poster and obvious excitement. My team members reflect on similar experiences, and were just as heart-broken to leave their students at the end of each day.

Visiting the middle and high school that week was just as great. It was refreshing to see students at that age still interested in school and concerned about their futures. They really exemplified the success of the Tangelo Park Program and their dedicated efforts. They asked us questions and were very appreciative of our visit. I know the team and I felt we had connected with a bunch of young new mentees on those days. Before leaving, we exchanged our contact information, and I foresee us keeping in touch and hearing great stories of their success.

We were very fortunate to participate in the board meetings and discussions with Harris Rosen while in Tangelo. Seeing the program from the administrative end helped us see the need of a lot of dedicated and willing participants in the community. The team came to really admire that about Tangelo. In our week there, we could already see how cohesive the community was, and how each member of the neighborhood was instrumental in its success.

Each and every day of the trip brought something new for us. It became more and more clear to me that despite the impact we may have made on the students we visited that week, they impacted us more than they’ll ever know. Despite our intensive preparation, we learned even more once we finally got to Florida, and it truly was an experience that I will never forget.

       Our week at the New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC) was absolutely incredible. My team and I learned so much and grew so much, we just couldn’t believe how much we were able to experience in only 4 days of volunteering. Looking back on our week, many of us felt that it was the most productive 4 days of our lives. It was also one of the most fun 4 days of my life.

We got off to a slow start when we first arrived at the shelter. We didn’t see many of the shelter clients, as we were there during the day when the children were off at school and the women were out. Meeting the kids late in the afternoon was exciting, but our time with them was short due to our work schedule. As a team, we wanted to spend more time in the shelters in the evenings to get to know the children and the clients better. We decided to change our work schedule around to spend more time in the shelters in the evenings, which turned out to be a great decision.

During the daytime when we were at the shelter, we made posters to advertise the events we were organizing (a screening of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and a mural painting activity), we cleaned the playrooms, we organized bookshelves, and we compiled a list of useful English phrases with Chinese translations – one team member who is fluent in Mandarin was able to write the pronunciation of the English words using Chinese characters, which proved to be very helpful for clients who did not read English or pin yin (a system used to write the sounds of Chinese characters using English letters). As most textbooks that teach English to Chinese speakers utilize pin yin to teach English pronunciation, it can be almost impossible to learn English for those who don’t know pin yin. One woman spent over an hour going over the list of words with one of my team members, and she was very happy that we were able to put together such a document for the shelter.

The two activities that we organized at the shelter were both huge successes. Our film screening brought many of the shelter clients together, whether or not they were there to watch the movie or just to see what was going on that night. We got to speak with many of the shelter clients and get to know them better. We also had tons of fun playing with the kids, who entertained us endlessly with their infectious energy and laughter.

The mural painting was also a great activity. The artistic talents of my team came in very handy. The shelter clients stopped by all day to see what we were up to, and some of them helped us paint as well. The children also liked to help us paint – although sometimes they got paint on more than just the canvas. The children had so much fun, and they also seemed to really like having us there. While we were painting, the little girl there gave us so many stickers that I was left with a deep impression of her generosity and willingness to share (I never shared my stickers as a little girl…). Everyone complimented us on our beautiful mural and our hard work, and they made us feel very appreciated.

One of our most memorable moments at the shelter was the evening of our last day at the shelter. Some of my musically-talented team members began playing the piano in the dining room, and one woman told us how much she had loved music when she was younger. Since no one at the shelter knew how to play piano at the time, she was so happy that we were able to fill the shelter with music that evening. She even sang for us – her voice was incredible, and it was a treat for all of us to hear her sing. One of my participants also brought out some Chinese dance fans, which proved to be a lot of fun for everyone. The kids loved to play with them, putting on silly performances for us. We even put on a little dance performance for them at the request of the little girl there. That night, it was definitely not easy to say goodbye.

One thing that my team noticed about our time at the shelter was that everyone at the shelter was so incredibly warm and welcoming. The women at the shelter were like a big family. They looked out for each other and each other’s children. They chatted with us openly as well, accepting us into their home without a second thought. We could not be more grateful for their hospitality. Our language abilities definitely came in helpful in allowing us to communicate with the women. For the more reserved women at the shelter, having someone who could communicate in their native language made it easier to speak up. One of the women really opened up with one Korean-speaking team member, as there were few Korean speakers in the shelter she could speak to. Even for those of us who could not speak the same language as the women, we could still feel their thoughtfulness and warmth. One woman, seeing us hard at work on the mural, fed us grapes as we worked. Another woman baked us a delicious cornbread cake on the last day of our volunteering. They not only made sure we were full of grapes and cake, they also made us feel full of that wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from being valued.

When asked to describe our experience in one word, my team members described their week with words such as “enlightening”, “humbling”, and “necessary”. Another word that came to mind was “progress”. Seeing the change in our relationship with the shelter clients, with each other, and within ourselves, I felt a sense of pride in myself and my team. Back at Cornell again, we have more than just a week’s worth of happy memories reminding us of our volunteer experience – we have our development as a team and as individuals.

Know Your Rights 2012

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Know Your Rights

4 days of service. 10 weeks of learning. 1,000,000 memories to last a lifetime.

The Know Your Rights team could not have asked for a more enriching opportunity to learn about the issues facing domestic workers in America and to be a part of a movement that transcends beyond the self to stand up for the value, worth, and respect of every human being.

Day 1. The team walked into the office of the Domestic Workers United at 10:30 in the morning. The office consisted of a main room, which could fit 20 people, and a room connected to that which had four desks for the four full-time staff. Although small, the office was very organized and full of light, color and energy. As soon as team members walked in, they saw what looked like a mini library on one side of the room, a white board with leftover material from the previous weekend’s leadership training, and walls filled with posters, pictures, and big calendars detailing and documenting everything the organization had accomplished and hoped to achieve in the next year. The Outreach Director, Joyce, warmly greeted the team and invited us to sit down in the main room. For the next two hours, Joyce shared with us her passion for Domestic Workers United. Even though we had been learning about the issue for 10 weeks prior to coming to the site, speaking with Joyce gave everyone a newfound understand of the mission of the organization. Joyce, a former nanny herself, explained that domestic workers are one of the only groups not protected under the US labor law, which makes them very susceptible to exploitation. Domestic workers, which include nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caretakers, are oftentimes treated as if they are subhuman. Not only are nannies often underpaid, they work long hours and are not valued for the kind of work they do. They are not receiving the respect and dignity for their work even though their work is real work.  Joyce then continued to tell us stories about nannies who had been exploited and how they first the formed power base for the organization. By drawing networks with unions and other social movement organizations, Domestic Workers United soon rallied hundreds of nannies all across New York to lobby for the first ever “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.” Because this was passed in December 2011, it now allows domestic workers to speak up for their rights. They are protected under the law, which means they are guaranteed overtime pay after 40 hours of work, 3 sick paid days, 1 day of rest per week, and many more benefits that counter discrimination.

The mission of Domestic Workers United energized the team. Joyce had poured all of her knowledge, experience, and love into this brief orientation, and now everyone felt empowered to give up their skills, time, and resources for the week. The motivation to do work came from the fire inside of our hearts, ignited by the mission to stand up for the rights of domestic workers, recognizing that domestic workers are unjustly exploited and deserve, just like any other human being, to be treated on the job with dignity, respect, and value.

As a team and under the direction of Joyce, we immediately put together a series of tasks to do at the organization. This ranged from updating their newsletter with quizzes, word scrambles, and crossword puzzles, writing an article, entering data into the system, creating flyers to promote their upcoming events, and translating documents into Spanish. Inspired by the mission Joyce laid out before us, the team was so excited to contribute all of their ideas to help the organization in any way possible.

As the day progressed, we soon found ourselves role-playing outreach scenarios. In addition to the various tasks we wanted to complete in the office, half of our time would be spent in parks talking with nannies, enlightening them about the rights they have based on the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and encouraging them to join Domestic Workers United for help, support, and power. This exercise was an excellent way for team members to release all of their fears as they practiced the most effective way to approach a nanny and what they would say in their message to convince a nanny to put down his or her contact information. After this exercise, team members became even more energized to go out into parks and actually approach nannies.

Day 1 was overall a great introduction to the organization. The way Joyce and all of the other staff members welcomed us into their organization made the whole team feel compelled to put their entire minds and hearts to serve the organization in every way, form, and capacity.

Day 2.  We started the day in the office continuing the tasks we had planned to accomplish the day before. While one person would type up collected letters addressed to President Obama petitioning for a specific proposed legislation that would ensure the minimum wage an overtime protection for homecare workers, another person would work on designing flyers to promote the upcoming Domestic Workers United classes. The tasks we performed in the office allowed everyone to achieve a deeper understanding of the mission of the organization. Instead of simply reading about the organization, we got to further the goals of the organization through social media resources and community organizing tactics.

In the afternoon, half of the team followed Joyce to a union meeting she was invited to speak at. This union represented the retired workers of New York. As one of the most active social groups, this union allowed team members to understand the dynamics of network building. As Joyce spoke her inspirational words over the group, she solidified the power base of Domestic Workers United by guaranteeing the union’s support, which furthers the power and influence of Domestic Workers United.

That afternoon, the team also started doing outreach in Union Square. Split up in two teams and accompanied by the DWU staff, the team got to see the staff in action. All were impressed by their ease in approaching nannies, spotting nannies, and eventually educating them on the street about their rights and opportunities.

Day 3. In the morning we continued our tasks and finished any database entry that the staff wanted us to complete. In the afternoon, our exciting adventure of street outreach began. We travelled to Central Park, broke up into groups of 2 or 3, and began approaching nannies. All the training and preparation paid off. At the end of the day, team participants realized how much easier it was to talk to strangers. After this experience, some team members felt as if they were able to talk to anyone. It stretched some people out of their comfort zone as they were rejected. However, in the end, we knew that even if we didn’t get the name and number, handing out the flyers still made a difference. Some participants were natural street outreachers. Everyone was focused and motivated to put all they had into this job. Some members even used their Spanish skills to approach nannies.

Day 4. We participated in a rally for the work experience program. Holding up signs in front of City Hall in front of a camera allowed the team to see the grassroots of change. It was exciting to be a part of a movement that stood up for the value of work. Once again, this taught us the importance of network building. In order for an organization like Domestic Workers United to survive, it is necessary for them to build alliances with other community based organizations. We also attended a hearing on the Mayor’s Fiscal Preliminary Budget, which was related to the rally. This allowed us to see the effects lobbying can make in the decisions of Mayors and elected officials. We then proceeded to do more outreach on central park. The weather was perfect and nannies with strollers and children were everywhere. The team improved from the day before and was more energized than ever to pass out flyers and get names and numbers. In the afternoon, we had lunch with the DWU staff and bonded with them over Indian food. Finally, we went back to the office to finish our tasks and end the day watching the movie the organization had put together to promote their mission to the rest of America.

The mission of Domestic Workers United is admirable. With such a staff and small office, it is absolutely incredible how much power and influence this organization has been able to accumulate. They are effective at what they set their minds to and are paving the way for a more equal society. Domestic workers deserve dignity. They will get it. Their work will be respected. It is through their solidified actions that they are making history and because of their actions, history will be changed forever.

While the organization itself was amazing, the team itself was also extraordinary. While we worked with Domestic Workers United during the day, at night we roamed the streets of New York. From walking around Columbia University to Union Square and eating at street vendors to exotic Thai cuisines, the team bonded like no other. The immense acceptance and love between every team member contributed to the incredible team dynamic. The team agrees that these memories will last for a lifetime. KnowYourRights4Lyfe.

Community Servings 2012

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Community Servings

After a daylong journey from Ithaca through Syracuse and Albany, our team finally reached Boston late Saturday night. Sunday morning we set off to walk the Freedom Trail, beginning with a tour of the USS Constitution, conveniently located only a couple blocks from our hotel! From the historical ship, we headed to a Thai restaurant for lunch. When we arrived at the restaurant, we learned it was closed on Sundays! Using our teamwork and conflict management skills, we quickly came to a consensus on a nearby restaurant. From there we continued walking the Freedom Trail, stopping at the Bunker Monument to climb the whole 294 steps to the top then rest outside in the grass. Following the Freedom Trail, we traveled into the North End where we saw Old North Church and Paul Revere’s House. By that time, we were hungry and stopped by two Boston classics: Pizzeria Regina and Mike’s Pastry. Though we had fun exploring Boston, everyone was ready to start working at our site.

After enjoying a casual brunch in Boston Back Bay, we traveled to Community Servings in Jamaica Plain for our first half-day of work. The volunteer coordinator gave us an orientation before allowing us to begin work in the kitchen. She discussed the clientele of Community Servings, such as their demographics and some of the illnesses from which they suffer. She also detailed Community Servings’ other programs besides meal delivery. Finally, she explained to us why diligent hand washing and proper protective gear were crucial for working at Community Servings: most of the individuals we prepare meals for have compromised immune systems, so what could be a minor illness for one of us could seriously endanger their lives. After hearing the volunteer coordinator’s orientation, we realized how well prepared we were to work here. Nearly everything she mentioned to us had been covered and discussed at our weekly meetings leading up to the trip. Despite knowing most of what she covered in the orientation, several group members asked her questions to expand upon what had been discussed. The volunteer coordinator was pleased that our group was so engaged in Community Servings. After working in the kitchen for a couple hours in the meal assembly lines and peeling carrots, the chefs dismissed us for the day. Though we wanted to stay and keep working, we knew we should save our energy for the next three full days of working at Community Servings. Monday night was filled with delicious food, as we explored Chinatown and ate at a new restaurant.

Tuesday was our first full day working at Community Servings, from 9:30 am until 4 pm. During this time, the group oriented themselves to the logistics of the kitchen and started feeling more comfortable. We also began talking to everyone we met: chefs, regular volunteers, and the food service training students. Everyone we talked to had a unique reason for why they loved working at Community Servings, which inspired our team to make the most of our short time working there. The trip leader was surprised but touched when three of the chefs remembered her from her visit the previous year. At lunchtime, the chefs were extremely generous and provided us with more than enough fresh, delicious food. After stuffing ourselves with macaroni, fresh veggies and chocolate pudding, we headed back into the kitchen for more tasks. Our team worked so efficiently together that the staff ran out of tasks to assign us! Though we happily would have stayed and worked more, the chefs insisted we go out and enjoy Boston instead. We traveled over to Quincy Market to see the famous street performers, shop, and enjoy some classic Boston cuisines such as lobster rolls and New England clam chowder.

Wednesday morning everyone was more tired than they anticipated, but were nonetheless excited to return for another day of work. Wednesday marked a change of pace in our work, as two team members got the privilege of going along on a delivery with a staff member. At our team reflection, we learned about how they got to see all different areas of Boston and the diverse clientele that Community Servings provides for. These two team members personally delivered meals to clients, as well as to schools that Community Servings provides school lunches for. They felt that being able to go on a delivery tied their whole experience together by allowing them to see exactly where the meals we made ended up. The rest of the team got to work in all different areas of the kitchen- the meal assembly line, packing weekly food bags, and even helped out with some small tasks in the professional kitchen. In the professional kitchen, we got to work with members of the food service training class and see how Community Servings had helped them. The training program provided them with marketable skills that would help them get jobs, and also made them excellent cooks! At the end of the day, the generous chefs surprised us with homemade pizzas and donuts. Wednesday evening we attended a Cornell networking panel with alumni in the public service sector. We really appreciated hearing about how we could transfer our volunteer experiences into careers after graduation. During the Q and A session at the end of the panel, several team members asked the panel thoughtful questions, and represented Cornell and the Alternative Breaks program very well.

Everyone was exhausted by Thursday morning. We knew, however, to make the most of our last day at Community Servings. Three more team members had the opportunity to go on a delivery. After being away for nearly 8 hours, they truly realized the scope of the area served by Community Servings! Like the two participants who delivered on Wednesday, they felt that delivering really tied their whole volunteer experience together and were so glad they went. They had a unique opportunity to get to know some of the drivers, who we typically don’t get to interact with. At our nightly reflection, we learned how dedicated the drivers were to the cause and mission of Community Servings. Though very, very tired after 18 hours of working in the kitchen and delivering meals, we were very sad to leave all the friendly faces we met while working at Community Servings. Once again, the chefs went above and beyond what we ever would have expected and prepared us a delicious lunch. After taking numerous pictures and saying many heartfelt goodbyes, we were on our way to have dinner at the Prudential Center and get some much-needed sleep.

On Friday, after sleeping in, we headed back to Quincy Market to check out the street performers, farmer’s market, and once again, the food. Later that afternoon we headed to Harvard Square. After checking out the Harvard Bookstore, Harvard campus and eating dinner, we met up with the Boston Living Center team to enjoy some ice cream and take a second trip back to Mike’s Pastry. As a team, we decided to save our appreciation circle for the last night. We anticipated it would take us about a half hour, but with our team of 9 and the strong bonds we had formed over the week, it took more than 2 hours! Everyone had something nice to say about every member of the group. As a trip leader, it was extremely rewarding to see how well the team bonded and meshed after more than a semester of icebreakers, meetings and discussions. After much laughter and heartfelt talk, we all headed to sleep. Saturday we set off to repeat our long journey back to Ithaca via Albany and Syracuse. At half past midnight, we finally made it back to our dorms and apartments and vowed we would reunite once the official Alt Breaks activities ended. Our six days in Boston were activity-packed and exhausting but definitely worth all the preparation to work at our site and meet all of the great people we had the privilege of meeting and working with.

Mountain Lake Academy 2012

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Lake Placid

The spring break in Lake Placid is an experience we will never forget. It began on Sunday morning on a bus. That day we spent close to ten hours on the bus. We slept, bonded, and imagined what our week would look like. When we arrived in Lake Placid, I was amazed by the scenery and weather. On other spring breaks, it had been covered in snow and much colder. This spring break, it looked like it would be warm and sunny. We drove to our house, the Adirondack Experience, and were thrilled at how homey, large, and welcoming it felt. It was located several minutes from downtown, and we felt somewhat isolated from the rest of the town. Upstate New York really puts you one on one with nature. That’s how we felt. We were completely surrounded by endless fields, enormous trees, and at night we could gaze at stars that shone more brightly than I thought possible. Our first morning, we woke up to magnificent sun beams that perforated our home.

When we arrived at our site, we met with Carol, our contact, and were given a tour of the site. One by one we all split up according to class subjects: math, art, science and English. Since there are two residential programs, MountainView and BrookView, some of us went to one while a few of us went to the other. We attended classes, and transitioned with the boys from one subject to the next. At first, it was a little bit awkward as it always is when you meet someone new. But during meal times we really got to engage more with the youth. After school, we joined in their activities. We all did different things, from rock climbing to hikes. It provided a time for more meaningful interaction with the boys. We went to dinner and then went on a walk around the lake. It was cold but perhaps one of the best moments on the trip. I think the most important component was just being real. I made real friends and we just chilled and talked about movies, our aspirations and dream homes.

The next day, we all went to our respective classes and began the day. Halfway through the morning, we learned that the community had suffered a great loss. It was up to my team to decided whether we wanted to stay or go back home. We all discussed it and decided that we would stay because the kids and staff needed us there for support and comfort. The agency continued with its daily agenda to maintain the structure of the program in an effort to keep everyone going. That day was hard for all of us, but the structure was critical in helping us process the happenings. The activities after school and after dinner kept us busy. The strong sense of community there helped everyone feel safe, supported, and cared for. There were no need for words; that day we all became a close family that looked out for each other.

The next day was hard. We were completely committed to going back to the agency. But something in the air was different. It had to be. We all went to our classes and tried to do our best to engage with the kids. Because everyone handles things differently, it was essential that we all looked out for the kids but also for one another. My team did a magnificent job of communicating and checking up with each other. That’s what makes the experience memorable. It’s the fact that we were there for each other. Wednesday was spent in class, cooking lunch for the boys and staff, and playing in the basketball tournament. It was good to move forward and have something to look forward to. Everyone was completely pumped for the basketball game between the staff and the students. We ended up losing by close to 30 points. But it was a great game. Afterwards we all split up and attended different activities that were meant to cause personal reflection. We discussed issues like trust. Everyone was open and genuine about how they felt. Unfortunately the week was coming to an end. On Thursday, we started the day as we usually did, but then had to regroup because we needed to paint an inspirational quote on the wall of the gym. We all worked so hard and used the input from some of the boys. It was truly a collaborative effort. My team really got to bond.

Later, we took part in the after school activities. Some of us went on a hike where we collected sap. We conversed with the youth and cherished our last full day there. Later it was time for the annual talent show. There were acts ranging from a magic show, a rap, a poetry reading, a three-point shoot out, and performances of one of Adele’s songs and also of the 4 chord song. Afterwards we hung out with the youth. I remember us gathering in a massive group hug.

The next day we had time to say good bye to all of the students and the staff. We said good bye to our friends and to what had become our family. Some of us cried. The entire experience was remarkable. We all learned different things. We learned not to make assumptions about people, we learned that everyone deserves a second chance, we learned that the friends we make will always be with us, and that together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

Cape Cod 2012

Posted: April 22, 2012 in Cape Cod











On the 18th of March 2012, the Cape Cod team of the Cornell Alternative Spring Breaks program left sunny Ithaca to embark on a trip that provoked their thought on the effect of homelessness. As usual, being forced to enjoy each other’s companies for seven hours helped to improve the team dynamics more than any of ice breakers that we hard during the weekly team meetings.

Upon our arrival in Cape Cod, we decided to take a tour before our week started. We went to one of its famous beach, sea food restaurant, and other local places by mistake. During our reflection meeting (which we had at the end of each day together with an hour journal entry period) that evening, some of the team participants noted that observation that “it seems that people who live in a dispersed, individualistic community like Cape Cod might easily forget about issues such as homelessness that affect its local residents. The entire team was ready and excited to link the curriculums from their weekly meetings to the Cape Cod community that they have found themselves stuck in for the rest of the week. They were all ready to get a first hand perspective of how people dealt with the issue of homelessness.

Wearing the right attires, breakfast in hand, and armed with principles of service learning, we started each day with a twenty minute debriefing session at the Housing Assistance Coorporation (HAC) office in Hyannis. At the start of the week, the team met people from different programs that are under HAC’s umbrella. They were all surprised to see how happy each one of the employees were considering the heart breaking stories that they hear throughout the day. They learned more about the importance of housing and the purpose of HAC from the employees than I was able to relate to them during our weekly meetings before the trip. Other than learning more about the imaginative project that we were going to bring to reality, the team found the interview and photography workshops helpful as they prepared to interview the clients and take photos that were used in the project. This trip would not have been as eye opening as it was without the involvement of the people whose lives are changed by the issue of homelessness.

The students met with clients (homeless people) from two of HAC’s shelters, Carriage house and village of Cataumet shelters. It was from this exposure to the clients and their relationship with their children that asked the students to take on the challenge of being more engaged with issue of homelessness and the community that they were in. After talking to the clients, the tucked away the preconceived notions that they had of HAC’s clients and quickly realized that they were no different from “regular people,” they just had different stories. Before talking about how the rest of the week went, I want give a brief description of what the exhibit “Houseless, not Homeless” was about.

Although Cape Cod usually brings to mind images of vacationing and relaxing summers, the community’s dependence on the tourism industry has led to the creation of seasonal jobs, the effects of which are exacerbated by the weak economy. As the disparity between people’s monthly income and rent payments worsen, many are forced to move out of their apartments or houses with their family. People who find themselves asking for help at the homeless shelters provided by the Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) do come from all walks of life.

Of those who end up at the Village at Cataumet, a shelter HAC provides for families, each family has its own story, framed by the portraits. Some are victims of domestic violence, and others need a temporary crutch before they could start walking on their own again. Regardless of their backgrounds, all of them have goals and have professed their hopes and dreams of finding a job again and moving into their own personal space.

Nevertheless, the mothers in the families steadfastly declare that despite their current situation of homelessness, their happiness depends largely on the happiness of their children. Their children, in turn, lend their parents the motivation to become independent and increase the quality of their living situation. This family dynamic in homeless shelters does not differ from those with homes. From a glance or even careful observation, there are no revealing physical or emotional features that define an adult or a child as homeless. Children from the Village at Cataumet and Angel House, a shelter for single mothers and their children, participated in this mural project to present to the public that homelessness does not distinguish one child from another. Aside from the 11 participants, there are 250 more homeless children on Cape Cod who will remain nameless to the public. They are as hyper, spunky, and ambitious as all the other children on the cape.

The term homelessness has acquired an unfavorable connotation with the way that media has portrayed it to the general public. However, in line with the saying “Home is where the heart is,” the families who have been affected by homelessness still are inspired by the family bonds that remain strong. The quality of what is called “home” is not defined by how sizable the house is, even though owning houses and apartments may be something that everyone aspires to. Lacking a sense of ownership of a personal space should not reflect negatively on the individuals themselves, since “home” is intrinsic not to any physical space, but only to the intimacy between parents and their children.

The exhibit that is described in the few sentences above asked for the trip participants to work as a team, practice risk and conflict management, and be persistent to the achievement of the project goals despite the time constraints that presented themselves. After taking a step back to look at the product our hard work and after realizing how much each participant has learned from this experience, I want to applaud the entire team for a job well done.

Thursday, the 23rd of March 2012 was our last day and night in Cape Cod. During reflection period that evening, the participants were asked to describe their week in one word and they responded by noting that their week was unexpected, overcoming, different, indescribable, ataraxy and fun. They all stated different things that they will be bringing back to Cornell but one thing that they all agreed on was the sharing of the knowledge that anyone can be homeless at any point in time, it doesn’t have an age group or social economic status preference. One day a person’s life can be going by smoothly and the next day that same person can find themselves homeless.

We will all like to thank the Housing Assistance Coorporation  and the Cornell Alternative Spring Break program for giving us the opportunity to get this experience and give something back to the community that we all keep taking from.