Who I am and how I view the world is a direct result of the things I’ve done, opportunities I’ve had, and people who I’ve stumbled across in my journey. Being compelled to go on an Urban Plunge to Detroit by an eccentric professor and subsequently being invited to lead an Alternative Spring Break trip to New York City proved to be two significant windows of opportunity through which my perspective of the world was shaped.
My first UCM experience was spending a weekend in Detroit proper. By day we volunteered at a Boys & Girls Club. By night we curled up in sleeping bags on a cold church basement floor. During the trip, I and a few other “plungers” got into a fairly heated debate regarding our society’s vernacular and a proposition to change how we communicate. After an exhaustive conversation, we ultimately concluded that we [all] must take accountability ourselves for being open to changing old habits and thinking progressively. That weekend was the beginning of a series of eye-opening experiences for me.
Upon reflection of the trip and evaluation of the insight we had gained, UCM leader and now a personal mentor and friend, Kathleen King, invited me to participate in the “ASB” program, which offers a substitution for the typical college “Spring Break” trip. ASB sends students to a major city or location to engage in charitable works and volunteer opportunities. “Ok, where are we going? Someplace warm?!” I asked eagerly. “New York…” King said, followed by sympathetic expression for my strong (and I mean strong) aversion to cold weather; one I had voiced with no reservations during all outdoor functions. Several meetings and leadership trainings later, I had experienced a multitude of interactions with other UCM students from a wide assortment of backgrounds and belief systems and I soon came to understand the meaning of “United Campus Ministry.” To “unite” means to bring people together for a common cause. I witnessed and was a part of bringing people together for a common cause of acting in kindness, acceptance and tolerance- the scope of which has continued to enlighten and edify my perspective for years.
During our ASB trip to NYC, we volunteered at a shelter serving breakfast on a bitter cold day in Manhattan. We stood there with our spatulas and dished out servings of hard-boiled eggs, sausage and pancakes. Some of the hungry guests were very polite, some were a little cranky or demanding (it was 7 a.m., who could blame them?), and some were aloof or said nothing at all. I didn’t mind the cranky ones. It was early, cold outside, and I’d demand extra pancakes too. But the ones who had the greatest impact on me that day were the people who responded to me by simply and sincerely saying, “thank you.” What was fascinating to me about that was the fact that whether or not our crew showed up that day, those people were going to get fed. If it wasn’t us, it would have been other volunteers or workers. But fortunately on that day, I had the responsibility of serving breakfast to people who needed it. And although they were grateful for this source of fuel for the day, I quickly came to the profound revelation that the one who was gaining the most out of the whole transaction was me. I was getting to know a world that was so far from my own. I was becoming exposed to people whose lives were nothing like what they’d hoped for, whose history very few people cared about, and whose future no one counted on. I was gaining intangible wealth: a deeper heart, an open mind, and a greater respect for humanity.
UCM was a tool with which I could grow and evolve as a human being and a contributor to my communities. Being a part of UCM helped me form a fundamental understanding of the world and how one person can change it, and provided experiences that challenged my way of thinking and processing information. The collection of UCM staff and students is ever evolving and strives to reach the hearts and minds of people from varying cultures and places of understanding. I’m so glad they reached me some 10 years ago, and I’m grateful for the everlasting impact it has had on my life.