Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gratefully Empowered and Hopeful

         It is extremely hard for me to communicate how much I have gained from the experience of serving the city of Detroit to those who have not witnessed first hand the hope it has. Through this entry, I hope I will be able to help give others a better understanding of all that I have obtained  as well as shedding the light on the improving city. My goal for this experience was to see, first hand, what the media disclaims to be true that Detroit is on the uphill march of improving itself. I definitely achieved it and cannot wait to express it with everyone!

"I didn't come to Detroit to witness the end of an era. I just wanted to find out if there was a future and what would it look like. My conclusion is that it's about people; it’s about empowered."

Corine Vermeulen


After a week of being strapped in an emotional rollercoaster, we spent our last day in Detroit exploring the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) before heading to the airport. It was in this museum I found the best way to express how and why I am empowered and positively changed by this experience. 

Photographer, Corine Vermeulen, captured in both words and pictures the changes in Detroit displayed in the Detroit Walk-in Portrait Studio of the DIA. The quote above was on the wall once you enter the doors and before you continue on to view the people of Detroit. I found this quote very impactful and meaningful to not only my journey, but I am sure my fellow ASBers. Trip leader, Amy Jones, mentioned earlier in the week Detroit is our neighbor and we are some of the many volunteers serving the community of our neighbors to improve itself. Before our trip, many people did not understand why we were going to Detroit claiming it is just falling apart and is unsafe. This trip is about service and while we were serving we witnessed the community bettering itself. The proof of the city preparing for its future began once we headed to our temporary home. As we were driving, we were rerouted, lines were merging due to construction, but as LaDonna pointed out we should not be upset by these measly orange construction cones because it is proof Detroit is making changes of improvement.

Our first full day in Detroit was our culture day. We began our day of exploration at the Henry Ford Museum where my impactful journey began. In the museum, was the actual Rosa Parks bus. Explaining this important piece of history was tour guide Ryan.  During this brief explanation of history, Ryan emphasized the importance of people in order to make a change in our world. According to him, which I agree with, if it were not for the average Joes of the world supporting and working with the famous people of movements, the iconic people would not be famous. I connected his thoughts back to our work in Detroit. We are the average Joes who are participating in the larger movement of improving Detroit, helping our neighbors.

Throughout the week, we met some very impactful people who made the experience of Detroit even more influential. These people who are full of gratitude, appreciation and ambition confirmed why we worked in Detroit, there is so much hope left in this city. Vermeulen summed up what I learned from all the experiences and the people I have encountered regarding the importance of people serving others for the betterment of the community in her quote about Detroit.  I am so happy, proud, and beyond GRATEFUL to say we, as a group, experienced this hope of the future the city is creating for itself!


Thank you Detroit for empowering me to challenge and further discover myself through service! You will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Victoria Gibbs
Class of 2018



Friday, March 20, 2015

My Ah-Ha Moment

     My Alternative Spring Break experience has been so immensely powerful. This week has given all of us something which we will never be able to put into words, and something that will remain a part of us forever. I have had such vastly different experiences each day, and every experience has taught me a new lesson about Detroit, America, service, and myself. The first day I associate with the image of Detroit. I was shocked by the amount of trash, and I will never forget noticing the abandoned homes. I felt like I was a part of an apocalypse. We had breakfast for the first time at a shelter and I am ashamed to admit this, but it was disgusting. I wondered how I was going to eat this all week long, and then it dawned on me that this is what some people eat all life long. Even though I found the food disappointing and horrible, I enjoyed hating it because it put other people's reality in perspective for me. That day we talked with a woman named Ms. Bray at a women's shelter and she spoke with us about the situations that young girls are placed in, and how important it is for all of us to appreciate our parents and our home lives. At this point on the trip, I appreciated her message, but I honestly felt pretty confident that I already embodied this appreciation.
     The next day was extremely frustrating. I was doing tasks that I found unimportant and I felt as though the time I was prepared to give was being wasted. However, during debrief Amy Jones helped me to realize that the small things do matter. Even though I was doing a task that I felt was unhelpful, it was helpful to the person who makes a difference in her job. I may have disagreed, but that's okay, and I need to remember that helping her is a way of helping the homeless. Additionally, I made the connection that our purpose of being here is not to change the world by organizing closets and cleaning kitchens. Our purpose is to show Detroit that they matter. To show Detroit that they have not been forgotten, and that we care about them. Giving Detroit this message can hopefully boost their moral, and continue to remind them of the amazing change taking place. More importantly, by spending time here, we are all showing our communities at home that Detroit is important and that it is essential for us to help members of our nation. LaDonna empowered me to be an advocate of service and to spread the word back at home why we should all lend a hand and get involved.
     The third day was my favorite day. At this point on the trip, I was feeling down and confused as to why. This day was very fun and positive for me. I was able to connect one on one with different people volunteering and staying at the men's shelter, while also painting which was a fun task. I felt good making a physical difference while also making connections with people. On this day, I learned how the little things can be more impacting than I first realized. These people work so hard all day long, that they don't have time to paint the lunch room. It felt great that we were able to come and put the time in when they are unable to.
     On Thursday, I came to realize more about treating homeless people like real humans, because they are. A homeless person is no different from anyone else, and anyone could fall into homelessness. I talked to multiple people at lunch who shared that they became homeless during the recession after they lost their job. Also, a man named Ed talked to us about donations that they are given. Often times, people donate old, tattered clothing with stains. I had this mindset before the trip that a stained shirt is better than no shirt. But Ed put it into perspective to me what it would feel like to wear that stained shirt. What does that do to a person's heart and mind? What will they begin to think of their self-worth? I now see that donations should be quality, because these are quality people. The highlight of the day was meeting a wonderful man named Robert. Robert recently moved into permanent housing and not only shared his story with us, but showed us his room. Robert really touched me because he was so genuinely proud of his accomplishment in attaining permanent housing. This success story gives me hope for so many others who are in a bad place.
     Today was my ah-ha moment day. The morning was fun, I spent time in the kitchen and danced with Caitlin and George. However my ah-ha moment didn't happen until later. In the afternoon the entire group went to an abandoned house and our task was to board it up. My task was to pick up trash outside of the home and to throw it in. The house had been burned and it was left in shambles. I began thinking about someone very important to me who recently abandoned their home and I couldn't help but think about the state of their home. You wonder what brings a person to this point where they need to leave their home behind, and it makes you so sad. It is even sadder to think that the house is then disrespected and neglected by the community. You have to wonder what happened to the people who once lived in the home, and what their life is like now. I became very overcome with sadness. I went behind the house to gather my emotions when I saw my best friend Kaylee. When I saw her I started crying and she put her arms around me, protecting me from the sadness that had taken over. She comforted me for a long time while I just let myself feel the grief. Then Kaylee began telling me to think of Robert. Robert who touched me so much with his kindness and success. She reminded me to think of Robert and that there are other people like Robert who do succeed and get help. Then she said something that I will never forget. Kaylee told me that we are the fight. We are the fight against poverty. This was my ah-ha moment. I finally realized that even though what happened in Detroit and what happens all over the world is horrible, that we are helping to make a change. Even though our small group will not change Detroit or the world in this one week, we are helping the movement to do so. I feel really empowered that I am a part of this movement, and that my contribution goes beyond this week. I will continue to make a difference by advocating for service and for poverty. Later in the evening, one of my most influential role models, Tori Dost said something that contributed to my ah-ha moment. She talked about how today we each picked up one stick and doing that one small action cleared a lawn and made it better. By making a small action toward a big problem, we are picking up one stick that is a part of the nation. There are other Alternative Spring Breaks and other ways to make a small difference, which can create a big one. She made me feel like I really have the power to help make this difference in the world. I was first shaken by the current state of Detroit, but now I feel immense hope for the future, and I am excited to see the positive change to come.

A Puzzle Piece in the Puzzle of Change

One Place. One Week. One group. One trip. The old me is gone and the new me is here. I think only twenty six other people will ever be able to understand how I am feeling at this exact moment, and as the many emotions hit us all it is hard to even begin to express them in words. I am with the most amazing group of men and women. Each of you are an intricate piece of this group, and will and already have changed the world as we know it. A wise man a few days ago told me that each decision and action we make impacts others in ways we could never even possibly imagine. What we have done in the last week may seem small, but it is the one post lifted that can change everything. This week we have seen heartbreak and devastation. Abandoned homes, destroyed pieces of land, and hungry bellies fill the streets. In Detroit, being homeless is not the exception, but a sort of culture. It is so common that is no longer unusual but usual. As much as seeing that has broken all our hearts, it also inspires us all. You would think that Detroit would give up. Never try for something that may seem hopeless. I have never met another group of people who are more grateful or happy. For people who have close to nothing, they act like they have everything. We did so little in comparison to what needs to be done yet they act like we are all angels sent from Heaven. Not that I don't agree because these guys are pretty special, but the fact that a simple meal or conversation can make someone's day just shows what inspirational people those who reside in Detroit are. A few weeks ago I didn't think that I would want to venture to Detroit after this trip, but now I know coming back here is no longer a choice but a requirement. As one man told me, Boston is where we are from and will always hold the title of home in our hearts, but Detroit it is now a part of us as well. One part that I would never change for the world. They were right being here was not a coincidence, but an assignment. We were meant to be here, and even if we can not see it we are the change this city and country needs. We are the future, and I know all of you will take this crazy world by storm. Never forget your worth. Never forget to see the light in darkness. And never ever forget to see what we have all felt in this wonderful place by all who inhabit it. Never lose your sense of hope, because in a world of uncertainty and having little control HOPE is the one thing that has and always will get us through this crazy thing called life.

Lots of Love and Thanks,

Michaela Lombardo Class of 2017<3 <3 :) :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finding Compassion and Love in Detroit

     Each day of ASB has been this diverse combination of people, stories, service, and experiences. Each day has left my heart fuller, my smile brighter and my ambitions higher. Yet, at the same time I have been on the verge of tears as I'm overcome by emotions. And at this points, it's impossible for me to try to explain or reflect on everything I have seen, heard, and learned in Detroit. Despite all these thoughts that are currently flooding my mind, spending a week in Detroit has given me a huge lesson in compassion and love.

     Everything on ASB has somehow been connected to this wonderful message of compassion and love. When I listen to people at Cass and Detroit Rescue Missions speak, I see how much compassion people are capable of. Some of the stories have shown me compassion within the organizations, and how much they believe in the mission of their organization. Some of our friends at Cass and DRMM have exhibited a strong sense of love towards the homeless population, and welcome everyone with open arms. Green Industries exemplifies how much we need to care about our earth, and how simple it is to do. The Heidelberg project overwhelmed me with compassion for art and beauty, which is incredible given nature of the area. When I attended the church service at Cass, the main thing I saw was how loving people are towards one another and their God. And finally, these amazing 26 other people I am with have proven to be not only compassionate about the work that we are doing and people we are helping, but also the towards each other.

     I am so lucky to be apart of ASB 2015. I know that the few days of volunteering we did in Detroit is  going to teach me more then I could have ever imagined. I am so sad to be leaving Detroit and my fellow ASB-ers but I am inspired to go home with my rekindled attitude of compassion and see what wonderful things we are capable of!

Emily Incledon, Class of 2015

"The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others." - Albert Schweitzer

Detroit will forever be in my heart....

During this trip i have been thinking a lot about my past experiences here in Detroit. I have not been able to quite connect the two trips together but in a sense i feel as though this has been an extension of my past trip. Overall this trip has been very different from my last and it has been very draining but in a good way. I love this city, in the 5 years since I have been here I have always said that if I did not live in Massachusetts then I would want to live in Detroit. My experiences I have had this past week have been amazing. I have met some of most amazing people who will forever have a place in my heart. Today I was with Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries at one of their men's shelters. I was talking with a man named Kenny who had been at the shelter for about 2 weeks. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes and for me it was the best 20 minutes of this trip. He told me about how he ended up in Detroit and how he ended up in this shelter. When we were finishing up our conversation he looked at me and said how he had never talked to someone for so long. He said he was used to listening to people talking and saying very few words and not being the one that was doing all the talking. I was so honored to be that person that he opened up to and shared his story with. He had such a positive attitude even though he was in one of the worst places in his life and I admire him for that. He talked about how he overcame his drug addiction and the temptations that are all around him. He told me that he has found himself and he is looking forward to what is next in his life. 
Talking with people like Kenny throughout this trip has made me really think about myself. All of the people that I have talked are in worse situations than i am but they have better attitudes than i do. After this trip I am challenging myself to looking within myself and be grateful for all i have accomplished. I can get upset over the smallest things, and half the time those things are not even important in the long run. If these people who have nothing can have positive attitudes then i too can have a positive attitude. A piece of me will always remain in Detroit. This city 5 years ago changed my life and 5 years later it has done it again. I will forever be grateful to Detroit for opening my eyes and making me the person who I have become. 

Lauren Donnelly
Class of 2017

Hopeful Changes

There is a strange mix of emotions caught in the people of Detroit. Hope, anger, abandonment, love...
On Monday I had the privilege of speaking with Miss Brey, one of the main workers in the Detroit Rescue Missions Ministry. She works closely with girls aged 14-19 who are either pregnant or have children with absolutely nothing. She helps get them out of their situations as much as she can by providing them with the necessary resources. I asked her what she thought of Detroit and her eyes immediately lit up. She said that if she was asked that five years ago she would say to stay away from Detroit. Get out, it's bad news. But now we are making a comeback, she said. Detroit has hope. There are programs for the homeless. There are businesses opening. We can help Detroit.

Then yesterday I spoke with another worker of Detroit Rescue. He has been staying in one of the men's shelters for a few months and seemed so happy when our crew of volunteers came in to help out. He was vibrant talking to us. I asked him the same question, his opinion about Detroit, and it was a 180 from Miss Brey. "I'm getting out of here," he said. He told us he needs to move to start over where it's better. He's a happy guy, but he thinks Detroit is going nowhere.

Two completely different perspectives. At first I didn't quite know how to process the information. How can these people have lived in the same place, experienced similar things, yet think completely different thoughts. I asked myself... so is Detroit making a comeback? Or will it never get better?
After a lot of reflection, and processing the information not only that I've received but that the other people in ASB have received, I've realized that everyone has a different perspective. And the point is Detroit isn't good or bad. Like anything, there is so much more going on.

Obviously, there still is a problem which warrants some people to think that there will always be a problem. But then there is hope too. People want to help the city.

I've quickly realized how difficult coming home will be. During our meetings throughout the year we've talked about how this trip may be emotionally draining and we may experience culture shock. We learned about the troubles in Detroit. Basically, all of us knew what we were getting ourselves into.
However, it wasn't until I was here that I truly understood what was happening. It wasn't until I experienced this trip that I could understand the purpose.

I can go back home and tell people all I want about what I've experienced in Detroit. But the only way that change will be made is if they experience it, too. They need to come here and help out. I want to help the city. I will encourage others to help the city. Hopefully they will then encourage others to help the city. It's a chain of change and experience. That is the only way I see a true change will be made in Detroit. People need a complete understanding and they will only get that through experience. I do see a bright future for Detroit, but I can't be the only one to see that bright future in order for change to happen.

Class of 2018

I See Your True Colors

A theme I've found throughout this trip has been the contrasts this city has. You look at the roads and see the brand new Fords, Cadillacs, Jeeps and Chryslers, yet there are also a large percentage of cars that are close to inoperability with few cars found in the middle. On the outskirts of the city, we've seen the Ford museum and its promotion of innovation and the wonderful neighborhoods of Gross Point, yet across the street and throughout the city, there are broken down homes and businesses. We've seen the life of a St. Patrick's Day party and the homeless man who picks up the beer cans so he can have a little bit of money for a meal, clothing, etc. We see abandoned or burned houses next to intact homes. We've seen the Wailing Wall, a physical barrier that separated the white and black populations in the 1940s transition into invisible barriers in which a town line or road divide poverty and wealth. Beyond these primary contrasts, you see a neighborhood breaking from this divide through awareness.

The Heidelberg Project reveals a broken neighborhood that refuses to give up. You see a neighborhood that's fighting back through art, which reveals the frustration and pride of the people of Detroit. They're creating beauty out of destruction. Their resolve is a motivating factor, which others rally behind and call to fight on. It also reveals a stark sense of the reality that much of this city is angry and wants change. There are so many positives here and the stories we hear from the different people we interact with, the jobs we do make a much larger impact than we typically physically see. A simple interaction with someone can make their day when one shows a genuine interest. Beyond that, even finishing the simplest task can help create a positive mindset and sense of pride for the residents. It allows the people who work at DRMM or Cass to focus on the residents or programs' needs. It creates positive growth that will continue with the groups who come after us.

The ability to see growth or improvement is a part of our mindset and it is definitely something so difficult to overcome when you're always told that jobs done efficiently and quickly will create results and that one should see a return on investment fairly soon after. This trip has required so much patience, whether starting a conversation with a worker or resident of the various programs both nonprofits offer, doing a task like picking up trash around the building, organizing a closet or cleaning a stairwell or storage room. All of these efforts add to the quality of a resident's experience and helps them to feel like they belong. That conversation you have with someone can help them learn a different perspective or even something about themselves they may not necessarily have known about themselves before.

The most impactful part of this trip for me, personally, has been the stories I've personally gotten to hear as well as those shared with the group. When we volunteered at the veteran transition housing through DRMM I had chance to talk to two of the executive coordinators who shared a bit of their background and story of how they got there. Though neither have been in poverty, they believe that servicing others provides something that is both personally beneficial and humbling. Gary Kabine spent a large amount of time talking about opportunity and regret. He said, "I regret not taking some of the opportunitiesI had now but I know I was supposed to be here, this is another chapter in the book of my life." He has been at DRMM for 14 years and he has appreciated everything they have done for him in providing him a chance to work with a specific group he holds closely to his heart as he is a veteran himself. Derek Howard, though not a veteran, works in various DRMM programs and his quote embodies a quote we always hear when he said, "It's always great to help other people. Makes you happy in your life and that's why I'm here." Service allows you to grow as much as you put into it, just like anything else in life. The amount of effort you put in can also provide a push for a change in the mindset of others and motivate those you are doing service for or with to push through and gain everything from the experience. Robert, a resident who has earned permanent housing through Cass embodies this idea. Two and a half years ago, he entered Cass. He came in with three goals: 1) to break free of his addiction to drugs, 2) to get a job and 3) to get an apartment. He has succeeded in accomplishing all three of these feats and he was extremely motivated. Cass gave him the tools and the little push to guide him down the successful path but it also required him buying into the system and focusing all his energy on improving the aspects of his life he felt he had made mistakes in. It is a balancing act between the nonprofit and the individual in order to have the best and most successful experience possible.

I want to close with a comparison I thought about after doing the True Colors the first night we debriefed. The largest focus and stressing point is that we aren't defined by the color our personality most closely relates with. Everyone has a bit of something in them and just as we aren't defined by the color, the people that we work with aren't defined by their poverty, homelessness, addiction or whatever hinders or alienates them from the rest of society. At the most fundamental level, we are all human. We all feel emotions, we all need food and water to survive as well as shelter, warmth, clothing and a clean body. We aren't simply attempting to prevent a deepening of dehumanization that occurs on a daily basis, we are creating a new sense of humanity, just as these nonprofits and countless other volunteers do each and every single day.

Dan Larrivee
Class of 2017

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Rose That Grew From The Concrete

I wrote this in my journal earlier before meeting Rob from Cass:

Today we picked up paper for Green Industries to shred from a Catholic school in Grosse Point, MI, right outside of Detroit. The community was clearly very wealthy with beautiful homes lining Lake St. Claire. The grass and streets were trash-free and it seemed not one bush has over-grown. However, when we drove ten minutes down the road, we were back amongst abandoned, crumbling homes and buildings, liquor stores and filth. It made me so angry and so confused. How can one end of a street house some of the nation's richest, while the other end of the same street is home to some of the poorest? How can those living in the well-off area ignore their neighbors? Are the even ignoring them or have they all just adjusted to this being the way life is? How does this happen?

On our first day of breakfast, Sue came to the table and asked, "Why Detroit?" I honestly did not know how to answer. In my mind I knew I came to Detroit because I wanted to spend my break making a difference but, ultimately, I would have gone anywhere. Now I have figured out why Detroit matters. While Detroit's own neighbors are happily living their lives, and the rest of the nation talks down upon this amazing city with so much potential, we are here. We are acknowledging that this city can overcome these battles and we believe in the potential that is within it.

When we got back to Cass, Rob immediately proved me right. He proved that there is hope in Detroit and the programs we are helping do make a difference. Rob has gone through the two year program with Cass and is no longer living on the street, but in permanent housing. He has a job and has gotten clean and sober. His smile and joy will forever be engrained in my mind.

I'm going to close this entry with a poem that I think embodies a theme I've noticed recurring this week. Detroit has been down for a long, long time, but I see it slowly coming back to life.

The Rose That Grew From The Concrete
By Tupac Shakur

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned how to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from the concrete
when no one else cared.

Maria Motta
Class of '16

Finding the beauty within the devastation.

Where do I even begin about this amazing journey? It is so hard to believe that there is a place like this that actually exists. It is by far the most devastating, but beautiful thing I have ever been lucky enough to be a part of. Today especially has been the one day where I have been able to see so much beauty come from people who have experienced so much destruction. In my lifetime I will most likely never be able to fully understand what they have or are still going through, but I can understand how blessed I am to have the opportunities and resources that I have. I plan to spend the rest of my life giving to others what I can. While I was painting a wall today, Abdulla, a man living and volunteering was painting along side me. I struck up a conversation with him, and asked him if he lived there. He explained that he did, but did not want to transition into permanent housing. I asked him why, and his response was that he did not want to. I did not push the topic, and reminded him that he was going to figure everything out, and that he would succeed. What I did not realize was how much this conversation was going to change my whole view of this city. He looked me in the eyes and told me he would succeed because he was a solider. I was so taken back that I didn't know how to respond. He ended up walking away and I still stood there motionless thinking. I came to the realization that he was not a solider for the United States of America, he was a solider for the city of Detroit fighting his own personal war, as well as the war of all individuals in this city suffering from the effects of inequality. This man will never know it, but he changed my life. He taught me that within our society, each individual is fighting a battle that we will never understand. In order to help win this war going on in Detroit, we all must stick together and support each other in any way possible. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.

"A meaningful life is not being rich, being popular, being highly educated or being perfect... It is about being real, being humble, being able to share ourselves and touch the lives of others. It is only then that we could have a full, happy and contented life." - Anonymous

Best Wishes,
Chelsey Hynes
Class of 2015

Detroit Day 5

This experience has been beyond amazing; I have learned so much about the human spirit, perseverance, determination and resilience. I have met so many wonderful people in Detroit who have shown me that they are determined to make Detroit a thriving, successful, wonderful city again and they have also shown me that it will happen. During the day today I had the pleasure of meeting two wonderful human beings - Ed and Robert - who are associated with CASS. Ed is the operations manager of CASS Green Industries and Robert is a formerly-homeless employee of Green Industries.

Both men inspired me by their belief in the city of Detroit and in their belief in the strength and grit of the citizens of Detroit. I really connected with Robert, though, because of his positive attitude/worldview and his inspiring story. Robert was homeless and addicted to drugs before he found CASS and, as they say, the rest is history; he is an active member in the CASS community working at Green Industries, living in the CASS permanent apartment complex, speaking at CASS dinners/events, etc. Robert is an excellent example of a success story where resources were sought-out and provided and a person was able to completely change their life and be so thankful for the changes they made. Robert is an inspiration and is someone I will never forget about.

Detroit is a wonderful city that has an immense amount of potential and I believe in Detroit!

Much love,

Michelle McGonagle
FSU Class of 2015