ASB: Dallas, TX

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This spring break I had the privilege of being apart of an Alternative Spring Break through the University of Iowa. The application process was super easy, in fact I had forgotten I had submitted an application until I received my acceptance email! This is the University’s third year doing Alternative Spring Breaks and their eventual goal is to get to 300 people on the Hawkeye Service Team. This year they had over 350 applicants for approximately 120 spots. The eight locations this year included Memphis, TN, St. Louis, MO, Pittsburgh, PA, Indianapolis, IN, Detroit, MI, Denver, CO, Dallas, TX, and Atlanta, GA. Each location had a different focus spanning from addressing homelessness in Denver, CO to addressing art in education in Pittsburgh, PA. The trip I was lucky enough to be part of was Dallas, TX, which focused on addressing public health issues in urban populations.

The first day of volunteering was spent at DivineKinship, a community garden geared toward fighting social problems as well as providing healthy and organic food for a ‘food desert’ stricken community. When I say, ‘food desert’ I do not mean that the community is completely barren on food. In actuality, it means that there is a lack of grocery stores, fresh food markets that serve fruits, vegetables and other healthy food usually in an impoverished area. Ursula, the founder of this non-profit actually had a local doctor donate 17 acres free of charge to start DivineKinship. At first, she was planning on opening a homeless shelter but thought she better get to the root of the problem and planned to open DivineKinship, a community garden. In a span of a few hours, our 16 person service team did more work than they could have done in a month. We tilled the soil, created barriers, transported soil, and planted. This day I learned how important community involvement is for the continuation of not only non-profits but also communities.

The next organization we visited was Bryan’s House, a nonprofit organization that services children with medical or developmental needs as well as their families. Just like DivineKinship, their mission has also changed over the years. Bryan’s House was first started by a mother who was infected with HIV during a blood transfusion as she was pregnant. Her twin boys both inherited HIV. Before she died she established Bryan’s House as a safe place for those affected or infected with HIV/AIDS. Bryan’s House has since branched out to serve more diverse clients. Here we interacted with the children and did office work. The main takeaway here for me was how unequal resources were split between the two locations. The location I was at was state of the art, it even had a basketball court donated by the Mavericks! The second location was an older home that was in the process of being converted into another facility. Here the teachers were greatly outnumbered by the students and some even didn’t have access to even pencils. The health discrepancies between the two locations were very apparent and indicative of what urban Texas experiences on a daily basis.

Our last volunteer opportunity of the trip was the Agape Clinic. This organization was located in the basement of The Grace United Methodist Church. This clinic serves a poverty stricken population and receives NO government support. I was actually baffled at how high tech the clinic actually was. There were only six examination rooms and people waited from 6 in the morning outside the church for the chance to be a walk in patient. I learned that the waiting list could span 6 months for an appointment. Because it is such a small clinic, specialized doctors only come on certain days. For example, psychologists will be there on Mondays so if a patient cames for their mental health on a Tuesday they would not be helped. My time spent at the Agape Clinic was very sobering. These people spoke mostly Spanish, and all of the doctors were English speakers leading to a huge barrier. Luckily three members of our team were able to go with the doctors and translate what they were saying to the patients. But our volunteers were only there for one day, what happens the rest of the days? Do the patients just sit there understanding little to nothing about what the doctor is saying about their health? For most people this was the first time they had seen a doctor in years and would not visit again for years. None of the doctors that day spoke any English and I was so angry that the quality of care was diminished because of a language barrier. The patients were so willing to learn, some even taking picture of the literature on the walls in order to dissect it at home for knowledge. The Clinic has many resources but not enough to accommodate fully all of their clients. I am so grateful to have quality healthcare at my disposal and will never again take it for granted again. Every time I start to bemoan the fact that I have to wait 5 extra minutes to see my doctor, I am going to think of the men women and children who sat patiently outside the clinic for hours on end just waiting on the off chance that the clinic would have a walk in opening.

Overall, I was so incredibly lucky to have been able to take part in Alternative Spring Breaks at The University of Iowa. I recommend this to EVERYONE!
Learn more about Hawkeye Service Teams (Alternative Spring Break)