So far this summer has been great! I have had so many opportunities recently that have opened so many doors. One of which being volunteering for one of CMU’s alternative summer breaks focusing on community health!
The week following finals, 11 students and myself traveled via mini van to Atlanta, Georgia to volunteer for three different services, Open Hand, 180 Degree Farms, and Jerusalem House. While we were there we also had endless opportunities to explore downtown Atlanta and create new friendships along the way.
On the first full day of our trip, we did not have any service and we therefore explored downtown. We got to ride the Atlanta Ferris Wheel, visit the CNN headquarters, and go out to a nice dinner together. I had never experienced anything like Atlanta. The city was so clean and beautiful and right outside of the city, there were beautiful suburbs that were very country-like and beautiful. When we returned from dinner, we got all settled in where we were staying at The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany’s guest house.
From this point on throughout the week we were highly involved in our volunteer service partners and I can truthfully say that I have a brand new perspective on community health in the sense of foods and portions. Our first service partner of the week was called Open Hand. Open Hand is a company that prepares, packages, and delivers food to those with health impairments such as diabetes or cancer. While volunteering with Open Hand Atlanta, we were able to utilize their assembly line to prepare the portioned meals, place them on the machine, plastic wrap them, place a label off ingredients on them, and place them on a tray before being bagged for delivery. This process was one that required each and every member to be of importance which I, personally, truly appreciated. This organization packages 2,000 containers of food and delivers them every single day.
Through the workers and the various amounts of volunteer groups they have every single day, this organization helps those in need to eat and remain healthy. While we were at Open Hand, we also got to help package the patients’ weekly grocery bags that the company sends them which is filled with copious amounts of fruits and vegetables. Working with Open Hand was a really amazing experience because of how fast-paced and up-beat each and every member was every day of work. It felt so accomplishing being able to help out with this company just knowing how many packages of food is helping just that many people in one day of volunteering there.
Another service partner our alternative break was involved with was called Jerusalem House. Jerusalem house is an organization that houses those dying of HIV/AIDS. Doing some research on the topic, “AIDS is caused by HIV infection. The virus attacks the immune system leaving the individual susceptible to life-threatening infections and cancers. Common bacteria, yeast, parasites, and viruses that usually do not cause serious disease in people with healthy immune systems can turn deadly for AIDS patients.” That being said, the virus is not always considered a sexually transmitted disease, it can also be caused through a poor diet and health choices. Keeping this in mind, volunteering for these individuals and families living in Jerusalem House was important in any possible way we could. Therefore, landscaping for their house was a huge help to those residing in the house and are unable to do so at times. From lawn mowing, weed picking, bush trimming, and garden planting, we cleaned up the yard in the front and back and it really did make a difference to the houses appearance.
Finally, the third service partner we were involved with throughout the week was called 180 Degree Farms. This farm was created when a family of four’s youngest child was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma cancer on his fourth birthday. Instead of putting their child through chemotherapy, the family decided to do something a bit different. They decided to purchase a piece of land to start a farm on and change the lifestyle of the family’s health habits to completely transition to happier and healthier people. A year after their child’s diagnosis, he was cancer free. This child is a miracle.
Ten years later, my group and I got to meet this 14 year-old, cancer-free young man and the rest of the family. This farm was like nothing I have ever experienced before. With fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, dogs, sheep, chickens, geese, turkeys, potatoes, and so much more, the family opens the farm each Saturday for cancer patients and those with other health impairments come and receive their share of the fruits and vegetables, and visit down by the pond. Every Tuesday, the family also delivers fruits to the hospital for cancer patients as well. Throughout the week, us volunteers were able to pick fresh strawberries, clean chicken and goose eggs, mound potatoes, pick weeds, and so much more. As a group, we also got to collectively build a citrus greenhouse. This was built so that the citrus plants and trees could be grow in a different type of environment than the rest of the plants in the greenhouse. With donated wood and plastic, our group was able to finish the citrus greenhouse on our last day at 180 Degree Farms. being able to experience this family, their story, and the impact they have on their community was truly in the spirit of our focus on community health. I think that seeing this farm was the most effective to our group personally knowing that all of the little things that we did that week truly was impacting people like their son. 180 Degree Farms was by far my favorite service partner we had that week.
All in all, being able to volunteer my time with these eleven wonderful people was something that I will carry with me forever. I had never been that educated on the topic of community health, which is why I thought that being able to volunteer first-hand with the topic would have me truly grasp the issue and take it by storm. I believe that community breaks are an absolutely wonderful way to volunteer and become educated on issues across the country and bring them back to our own community to truly make a difference. I hope to continue to volunteer with CMU’s alternative breaks, and hopefully be able to someday site lead a break of my own! I am so thankful with the opportunities CMU offers me and I can’t wait to see where this program takes me.