Alternative School Break: Lasting Impact

Stephanie-Jane Okpara ’14, Psychology, is UMBC Student Life’s Service Intern, president of UMBC’s Student Alumni Association, and vice president of the Gospel Choir.

Stephanie-Jane OkparaI’ve always been involved in service in my community, but never really got involved in service at UMBC until my 2013 Alternative School Break Trip during spring break.

A friend of mine who was planning to participate in an ASB trip encouraged me to apply. At first, I was hesitant because I was looking forward to having that week to relax, but I decided to go ahead and apply anyway. I signed up for a trip that involved working with adults with mental disabilities at the ARC of Carroll County.

My team was, in my biased opinion, the best ASB team. The UMBC students I met during this experience were amazing and had a passion for service. We visited the site daily, interacting with the clients and attending outings with them.  The ARC clients were some of the sweetest people I have ever met. I went there to serve them, but in the end, I feel like they served me. Their personalities were so vibrant and unique and their outlook on life was just phenomenal. Things I took for granted, such as dancing or cookies, brought them so much joy. I learned to appreciate and take time to enjoy these things.

We would return at the end of each day to Erickson Hall, the residence hall where we were staying for the week, and reflect on how the day had impacted us, and what lessons we could take away. Reflection really put  the reasons we were on the trip into perspective. Not only were we participating to serve the people at the ARC, but also to learn from our experience in a way that we could not in a classroom setting. Service-learning. Every day, we cooked dinner for each other, and we became so good at entertaining each other that eating and laughing pretty much went hand-in-hand. Sharing close quarters helped us to bond very quickly.

My ASB experience has impacted my life in lasting ways. This summer, I was an intern at the ARC of Prince George’s County. It was such a great experience, and I was able to intern in different departments, which gave me a well-rounded view of mental health care. Also, my spring break experience inspired me to apply to be the Service Intern for Student Life, a position which is enabling me to help with ASBs in a whole new way. The planning process is underway and I’m really, really excited for the ASB 2014 trips. If you would like to be a part of this amazing experience and get out of your comfort zone, apply to be a participant on a trip! Applications are due on December 1st.

Contact the author, Stephanie-Jane Okpara, at stepho1@umbc.edu.

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