A New and Authentic Idea: Spring Break Helping Others

As all things, Alternative Spring Break began as a theory. You know how these things go: you begin out of a principle and an inner energy that screams participation. Not that this in any way is an insincere thing. Far from it, this energy is the source of much passion and empathy, but in no way can it fully prepare you for the totality of an experience of the interaction with Life, bold and face.Yet I began with this philosophical energy as I scanned the choices for trips I could go on for ASB. The plurality of choices all considered with that theory of experience in a way that brands value to being a member of society, but what I sought in my theory was far more than value.I sought an idea, a totally new and authentic idea, one that would cause me to turn around in my place in the world and view life from a level beyond my own. I came round to choose a trip to Tara Hall, a home for underprivileged or troubled boys in the back roads of South Carolina.I knew that such a highly personal and constantly interactive trip would be one that would challenge my current position and effect the kind of energy that I gave to my life at school in Vermont, yet the how of it could never become finitely clear until even our last goodbyes.Leaving Tara Hall had a definite essence altered from what began last semester when most of us signed up to go. The meetings between the ten of us consisted of pizza, name games, making sugar cookies, silent auctions, and a theoretical idea of a trip sometime in March. Despite such a long period of icebreakers, the reality of Tara Hall never came close to being penetrated till days after our arrival.I was still shaky on everyone’s name, let alone did I have any kind of perception into the natures of the people I would share such an intense interaction with for a week. Even after spending eighteen hours together in a van, when we hit our last rest stop, South of the Border, a sketchy Americana freak park, my stomach twisted with the anticipation of the unknown of Tara Hall. Well, either that or the extremely shady burritos.Questions did, however, throb in my head of how we would be reacted to by the boys. These questions engulfed my concentration to the point that I could hardly enjoy the increasing temperatures that became evident at each gas station along the way. Agh! Why didn’t I just go to Cancun?Anxiety comes with all things unforeseeable. Dave Grover, our site leader, had even said at our last meeting that this trip would be done on the cusp. None of us knew at all what to expect besides some vague visions of tutoring and soccer. Even when we had been kindly and southerly received, we got no direction or instruction. No, the only thing close to that that we got was being constantly compared to “the last college group” and what “they did”. Absolutely everything had to sprout from our own initiative. Eventually, we created our own twenty-four hour schedule of immersion. Decidedly, after a Monday of slightly vague proportions, all ten of us plunged ourselves head first into Tara Hall life. We threw ourselves completely into interactions and go a response beyond all of our hopes. It was as if we had always woken up to a 7:30 breakfast and began classes of language arts, social studies, math, and writing at 8:30.It was sometimes as if each one of us was filled with an energy created by the memory of our own former lunch times and our own past recess adventures. Yet now in our old age, we could take an objective stance to kickball. We could play capture the flag without caring much if we lost or without feeling the need to show off how fast we were to our peers.This objectivity allowed us to offer ourselves as examples of calm and reflective players, both in games and in school, and yet we weren’t too old that we had lost all passion. We still understood the rage that can flare within if someone makes fun of the way we run, or the humiliation that can occur when we are the slowest reader in class.Our reason hasn’t taken over our souls yet as college students and this rendered the help we could give accessible to boys just entering the awkward pre-teen years. This accessiblity became apparent in all that we did that week. I remember moments during a game of Jeopardy that we had created.Never had I anticipated this dull witted trivia game could fill nine to sixteen-year-old boys with so much excitement, but it being Tuesday, I had still underestimated their overwhelming energy. Here we were, 20 boys and 10 college students circled round thirteen year-old Shawn, desperately figuring out proportion equations in his head, and how we screamed when he yelled out the right answer and scored 500 points for his team!And what a moment for our generation it was when after each team had tried their best to sing the lyrics to the theme for “Fresh prince of Bellaire”, all thirty of us, plus many of the counselors, all under thirty, sang along in perfect unison.Perhaps it all comes off sounding so ordinary. Why run off to South Carolina and Tara Hall when you could volunteer your time at the Burlington elementary school? These kids were not ordinary, however, and what can matter for them in a life that has been far from easy is an alternative perspective.All of them are amazing intelligent, knowing far more than me, unfortunately, about multiplication, and quite willing and able to talk with me about the serious issues that their generation faces, such as the school shootings in California and the controversial confederate flag that until only this year has been planned from being hung outside the South Carolina State House.What hinders most of them is far from a lack of potential but the luck of the draw. Plagued by their past, many of the boys fight their present disabilities to control their passions and their energies and, completely aware of their faults, struggle to come to terms with what was lacking for them in society which Tara Hall now tries to give them.Thus, on an individual level, it was their charming natures that caused us to fall in love with each and every one of them, yet on a community level, it was the truth and authentic support each boy held for the other out of empathy and out of an understood moral respect. The counselors, the young adults who live with the boys twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, should be attributed much to this.They exhibit a seemingly hash standard of discipline as I found out when I played the “shadow consoler” for a day, but that standard only functioned to produce a love and commitment for all in the community. It was commitment and a realness that I had never come close to experiencing in my well-off suburb town.There, where all problems are transitory, everyone goes their separate ways and even friends can become simple passerbyers in the grand scheme of life’s experiences. How often are we involved? How often do we genuinely care? How often can we feel a common experience in the life of those around us and feel this experience with empathy and respect?Here were boys, harassed in their minds by past abuse, neglect, or severe learning disabilities, some could barely read and write, and yet they knew more about respect and love than most of us had ever learned in all of our prestigious high schools. Such a community did not make it easy for us to leave on Saturday morning.Yet I was beaming on the van ride back to Vermont. Here I had experienced life in a society far from my own where I had worked to give what I could, if only a weeks worth of more attention and care, then at least we symbolized a world of support and care for others.If we weren’t a positive example, which I believe we were, then we were at least mentors that those boys will know are out there, somewhere in the unknown lands of the mountains in Vermont where “there’s still three feet of snow!”Very least of all, if anything, all ten of us ASBers got a world’s worth of experience from the trip. In an experience so outside ourselves, what really is important becomes clear. In times of stress, I will forever remember Keith’s eyes when he was told that a past Tara Hall student had been killed the night before.I will forever remember the amazing community of boys who have taken the harshness that life has so unfairly dealt them and pushed it aside, refusing to let it upset their capture the flag strategizing.