I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the different elements of my second trip to Detroit, but I haven’t talked about the volunteering part of it…yet. That’s what this final installment is to do. If you’re just joining, I’d suggest reading parts one and two first. For a quick refresher- I took this second trip during my spring break of my sophomore year in college through a group called Alternative Spring Break. I’ve gotten so caught up in the other parts I may have overlooked letting you all know that – it was an ASB trip. ASB is a group on campus that sends groups of students to volunteer at various locations with different themes during spring break. Joining this group was one of the best decisions I ever made.
The group made the trip, but part of what made the group was the volunteering. The group consisted of several really awesome individuals who are fun, obviously caring as they chose to use their spring break to volunteer and overall good people. We came from different backgrounds but came together to try and “be the change we wish to be,” to find ourselves by losing ourselves in the service of others. That group, along with the members of the organization SOSAD, the kids we worked with – all people I will never ever forget. They really touched my life in such a positive way.
The first school we went to wasn’t so successful for me. Members of the group had a good day though and that was good enough for me. The best highlight of that day was hearing from my group members that a couple of kids they worked with remembered me from the year before. I talked to them at a different school one year prior. Holy cow! That was a real treat to me because we only talk to any given class once for one day. To have that kind of memory told me that something I said stuck with them. That’s the entire point of the trip. That maybe our words can broaden their horizons. The point is to help these kids find alternatives to violence and help them see the value of education. I was floored. At the end of the day we went to Motown. You can’t visit Detroit and NOT go to Motown. That would just be be sacrilegious.
Burbank will always stick out in my mind the most. If there was ever a school that was a perfect example of the things the kids in Detroit have to deal with, it was that school. The teachers and other staff talked about how the middle school wouldn’t allow recess for the kids. Once inside, they were inside all day. It sounded horrible but it was truly the only way to keep the kids safe. I distinctly remember being in one of the classrooms and the kids had us go to the window… they pointed out at one house, there’d been a drug bust. At the next house, there’d been a shooting. Another type of violence or crime was at a third house. All those houses… right across the street from the school. The yard where the kids would normally be playing or having some recess was right there… they would have been in harms way no doubt. It just broke my heart. The stories the kids would tell really hurt me. It was hard to hear how kids who lived close to the school were scared to walk to school because anything could happen. It wasn’t safe.
The first trip I took was the same way. One girl told me about how she was shot in the leg because two men were fighting over a parking space at Wal-Mart. She was a kid so the story could be a little off, but given what SOSAD told us about what happens, it’s certainly plausible.
The second to last day of our trip we went back to a school called Academy of Detroit – which housed a middle school and high school. I loved all the schools but the high school was definitely a stand out experience. Ted, Jamie and I went into one classroom and the kids were ready and immediately asked for photos of us before we even got to our talk. At the high school, the focus became more talking about college and how to get there via scholarships, grants, loans, etc. There are lots of possibilities to get additional schooling whether that be going to a community college, 4-year college, trade school or something else. The idea is to get the kids to think outside the box and to see hope. Talking about violence prevention is still included but it’s not the highlight because by the time the kids are in high school, they’ve all been impacted somehow and have already formed their ideas – at least that was the advice given to us by SOSAD. That alone really hurts me. All the kids are impacted somehow by the time they reach high school? Really? Tragic.
The high schoolers at the academy were really driven, smart and definitely had bright futures. I hope they’re all out there doing awesome things right about now.
Finally the elementary school we went to was another truly great experience. It’s tough hearing their stories though because they’re so young but have to be adults already. The staff was ready for us, as most of the schools were, and had things organized. The student council was split up and served as our guides throughout the day.
It was a joy talking to the kids and telling them we were from Colorado. They and the middle schoolers just loved it. It was a geography lesson, wrapped up in talking about making good choices, etc. They would get so excited that someone would want to come see them during a spring break. Some kids just couldn’t get over it but it made them happy; made them feel like they meant something. That was the idea.
One of the more tragic stories I faced was at that elementary school. The stories tend to blend together but again, thankfully I had kept a journal and this story sticks out. There was one little boy who drew a picture of him killing his friend because his friend would steal things. It didn’t matter how much I tried to talk to him or tried to come up with other solutions, he was convinced that was the only answer. It more than broke my heart. I pray that someone was able to help him. Another of my favorite moments, and sadly I can’t be sure I remember the school, but I think it was the middle school, we were leaving and I wanted a quick photo with a couple of the kids. Before I knew it I was completely swarmed by kids. There must have been 20 kids and me. If it weren’t for my pale skin, you’d never find me in the mob haha. I have that picture but it’s in Denver sadly or I’d share it. So awesome.
The week came to an end but what happened has stayed with me and it will forever. I hope you’ve enjoyed my walk down memory lane. I hope I didn’t bore any of you and that all three parts were worth your while.