Defining Impact – Alternative Spring Break 2012

CIS Staff & Volunteers look on as Brandon reads his finished book

It’s moving to look at a conference room packed with 70+ college students that have given up their precious days of spring break to complete a week of service instead. They have opted out of warm beaches, poolside bars, and God knows what else to travel to a city that they do not call their own, with people they have never met. And this – all in the name of serving a community that is less fortunate than their own. For five years, Deloitte and United Way have partnered to host a Maximum Impact Alternative Spring Break in cities all across the country. This year, I was lucky enough to travel to Atlanta to join the these college students, United Way colleagues, and Deloitte professionals from every corner of the country who make this incredible program happen. Throughout the week, the teams of students spread out to all corners of Atlanta to complete projects at day care centers, homeless shelters, rehabilitation clinics, food pantries, local agencies, and schools. My team was assigned to work with Communities in Schools (CIS), an impressive drop-out prevention organization, at South Atlanta High School. We would be helping high school students write personalized books for kindergarten students, make literacy kits, and produce a literacy resource kit “How To” video. One topic kept popping up in our discussions and reflections throughout the service project – the question of ‘impact.’ What does it mean to impact a community, a school, or an individual? How do you measure it? How do you know whether or not you’ve helped at all? Mid-way through our time there, I had gained some insight to these questions. As the students were putting the final touches on the books they were writing for the kindergarteners, I snapped this photo of Brandon (center-right) reading his final copy of the book he wrote to the Community in Schools staff surrounding him. Later that evening, I shared the photo with everyone who was in it, and moments later I received a reply from Chris Hammond. Chris is the Vista volunteer who works at South Atlanta High School, who has only recently become accustomed to being referred to as “Mr. Hammond.” He wrote, “I’ve hardly seen Brandon smile all week, and here he is beaming about something he made. Thank you!” Chris’ email was enlightening – I had no idea that Brandon hadn’t really smiled all week. I knew it was a great picture, but the word ‘beaming’ hadn’t entered my mind. As I reopened the file to take a second look, there he was – beaming. This, I thought, was impact. 16 customized children’s books, countless hours of video editing, and 84 literacy kits later, the students at South Atlanta High School were sad to see our team leave. The week had ended with each of the high school students reading their books to the kindergarten students at Dobbs Elementary. The children’s eyes lit up as it dawned on them that they starred as the main characters in the books being read to them. There were more beaming high school students in that room than I had seen all week. As we said our nearly tearful goodbyes, exchanged contact info, and started filing out of the school, one of the students shouted out playfully, “you know what – ya’ll need us more than we need you!” It dawned on me in that moment that she may have been absolutely right – impact, I had learned, is a two-way street.

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