While some of my best experiences with the Draper Center happen right here on campus, two of my most meaningful Draper weeks have happened not in Claremont, but in San Francisco. Over spring break, I participated in San Francisco Alternabreak ---one of four weeklong community engagement trips--- for the second time. While I attended as a volunteer last year, this year, my co-coordinator, Sara Murphy, and I organized and led the trip. Experiencing Alternabreak from two different roles and perspectives provided me with so much reflection, learning, and only solidified my passion in working towards issues of social justice in various communities.
Throughout the week, our group of fourteen students worked with a handful of organizations that address different pressing issues in the bay area. These organizations included Coleman Advocates, Literacy for Environmental Justice, Golden Gate Conservancy, and St. Vincent de Paul Society. While at Coleman, we discussed the importance of addressing the roots of social justice issues, differentiating between the balance and need for direct service and grassroots organizing. At LEJ and Golden Gate, we learned what plants were native to the area and spent time weeding and planting. With St. Vincent de Paul, we learned more about the current issues surrounding homelessness in the city of San Francisco. On our fifth day, our group traveled to UC Berkeley, where we spoke with Sonya Zhu and Isabel Garcia, past Draper coordinators, who are now pursuing master’s and PhD degrees, respectively. They shared stories about their own Pomona experiences, and then told us about the work they are doing now with their public health and sociology programs, bringing in an educational aspect to issues of social justice. Hearing about their journeys, including moments of uncertainty, allowed me to consider work that can be done post-Pomona and post-Draper and gave me a greater sense of relief and optimism about life after college, solidifying that it’s okay to not have a clear idea as to what I want to do at this very moment.
The work we touched upon spanned various issues and methods of producing change, which is something I value about Alternabreak. Even though I wish we could continue working with organizations for more than one day, I value the chance we get to witness such a broad range of tactics and work being done, expanding our views and continuing discussion of what effective community engagement encompasses.
Experiencing Alternabreak as a coordinator taught me crucial skills, ranging from communication to planning as well as budget management and facilitation. It taught me to remain calm in times of panic, like when your bus driver sees you and Sara waiting at the door but drives off anyway, or when you set off the Draper alarm the morning of departure and then proceed to beg Campus Safety to give you and seven large bags of snacks a ride to the Metrolink Station. But more than that, this week offered a transformative experience. It was not only rewarding and relieving to see the months of planning, phone calls, and stress turn into a concrete trip, but also nice to take a step back from worrying about details to look at the big picture. It allowed me to form bonds and grow with wonderful students, meet alumni that come from different backgrounds and majors, and become exposed to only a snapshot of the important work that various nonprofit groups do. I can’t say enough good things about Alternabreak; for those that are even slightly interested, please consider applying for a trip next year!