Thank You, Ferguson

On Friday, June 19th, I began my journey to Ferguson, Missouri, for a week at the Alternative Break Citizenship Schools (ABCs) hosted by Break Away.  I was tired, anxious, excited, and somewhat nervous for the events that would take place in the upcoming week. After a very long day of travel (including two delayed flights and one missed flight!) I was incredibly thankful to finally be on the ground in Ferguson.


The focus of my ABCs in Ferguson was “Changing the Narrative: Community Building as Power”.  I learned to challenge the dominant narrative.  Dominant narratives are the stories told by the dominant, mainstream culture.  When the dominant culture is oppressive, so are the dominant narratives.  The main goal for the ABCs that I attended is to challenge the dominant narrative, specifically the narrative surrounding Ferguson.

I had incredibly high expectations for the week, and I can sincerely say that those expectations were met.  I was part of an incredible group of brilliant, passionate, and supportive Site Leaders that helped me through the week.  I was also incredibly blessed to work with a team of amazing individuals from colleges and universities all across the country (shout out to my Green Turtles!).


The structure of the ABCs is different than a typical conference.  At the ABCs, half of each day is spent in workshops learning about ideas to bring back to our respective Alternative Break Programs, and the other half is spent serving within the community.  While the discussion and information shared during the workshops is crucial to improve the TRIPS Program, the service is what will truly stick with me for the rest of my life.

While in Ferguson, I worked with an outstanding grassroots organization called Operation Help or Hush.  In its most basic sense, a grassroots organization works from the local community for the local community.  Operation Help or Hush (OHoH) was co-founded by Charles Wade and Tasha Burton in the midst of the events occurring in Ferguson, MO following the death of Mike Brown.  I was fortunate to serve alongside Charles, Tasha, and Isaiah Qualls, an OHoH program assistant, all week.


“You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me
with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness.  
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
-Maya Angelou-

One of the most important lessons that I learned all week came from a conversation with Charles Wade.  When discussing the different service we would be doing all week, Charles stressed that the most crucial part of OHoH is listening to the needs directly expressed by the Ferguson community members.  OHoH does not simply look at the community, and provide the resources that they assume the community wants or needs.  But rather, they listen to the needs expressed by community members and take action.

Another incredibly important lesson that I learned while in Ferguson is about the attitude and thought process that should be held when entering a community.  While volunteering, it is so easy to fall into the “Superhero” mindset.  To feel as though the community and its members are helpless without us.  One of my team members very eloquently stated, “We are not beautifying Ferguson we are simply helping to restore the beauty that already existed.”  I feel that this mindset is crucial to hold when serving within a community.


I feel that I grew so much during my time at the ABCs, and Ferguson deserves a “Thank you”.  Thank you, Ferguson, for showing me the power of grassroots organizing.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve alongside the amazing Green Turtles.  Thank you for proving to me that Ferguson is not as broken as the media led me to believe.  Thank you for showing me that Ferguson is just like any other city in the United States.  And finally, thank you, Ferguson, for teaching me how to challenge the dominant narrative.

-Taylor Baltus

Summer Guest Blogger: Maria Sauer, 2015 HIV/AIDS trip participant

The TRIPS staff asked trip participants to write reflections about their experiences this past year.  This entry was written by Maria Sauer, a 2015 participant on the HIV/AIDS trip to New York City.

“From living in community for a week with other TRIPS participants to taking part in Gay Men’s Health Crisis’s (GMHC) mission to fight to end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected, my HIV/AIDS trip experience immersed me in the ways that service is able to build understanding between people.  Our TRIPS group was able to come together from different backgrounds to share our passions through the service of others. While serving the clients at GMHC, a nonprofit provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy, we were also taking part in the service of each other. For a week, we grew as a group, were challenged in our previous perception of charity and justice, and found ourselves discomforted.

After our last day of service, I walked away from GMHC with the other participants still hearing the staff and clients express their gratitude generously as if to fill us with the satisfaction that we made a difference. As I walked through the same streets of New York that my group walked for the past week, I no longer felt filled with the enthusiasm that I would make a difference, but rather I was now feeling discomforted by the very same thing that GMHC had just expressed gratitude for.  I left feeling that I did not make a difference. I shared these thoughts with others in my group and found conversation with these people who I have come to know well in the past week as a way to process the stories we listened to, the ways we learned about the issue HIV/AIDS, and how we could leave feeling that our trip was worthwhile even as people continue to come to GMHC in need of services such as counseling, meals, and skills training to name a few.

These conversations concluded as we left New York and I returned to campus still feeling that I did not make a difference. This discomforted me in the weeks to follow to continue to process the ways I had learned and the ways I have been challenged. It was again through conversations with people who shared these feelings that I came to realize that GMHC’s mission to uplift the lives of all affected did not apply to only the clients in New York, but that it was meant for all affected. I left New York feeling that I did not make a difference, but I returned to Wisconsin to carry on GMHC’s mission to uplift the lives of all without exception. Through my trip experience, I was discomforted to understand the importance of service as it extends beyond organizations and through those that join in fulfilling the mission.”

HIV AIDS group for Maria Sauer blog post

We’re Back!: Urban Youth

We’re back! After two more long, exhausting days in the classroom, along with a ton of preparation for the spring carnival on Friday, and then the carnival itself, we ended our trip to Chicago the same way we started: with a mixture of emotions. The excess hugs and farewells from the students and teachers alike brought us sadness, but also a sense of accomplishment. We were greatly humbled to know that we were able to make even the slightest impact on the Academy of St. Benedict the African as a whole. Finally, as a group, we concluded that our exhaustion was fueled by five days’ worth of great work for a lot of great people.

When it came to Friday, all of our preparation paid off. Beginning at 8:30 AM and running all the way until 2:30 PM, the Academy of St. Benedict the African’s Spring Carnival definitely gave us all a run for our money. The first wave of students included both pre-school classes, and from then on the grade levels poured into the gym in grade levels of two. Each of us got to experience our specific classrooms in a more active setting, as they interacted in various games and challenges that rewarded them with candy and other prizes. When clean-up was finally over at the end of the day, we can assure you that our feet were sore, but for a good cause. After plenty of “Can you come back next carnival?” from multiple students, we hope that our positive responses can one day come true.

After living and working within the great city of Chicago and its Urban Youth Educational setting, we definitely got a greater insight into a school that was very different than any school any of us have ever experienced. Throughout our journey, we’ve come to realize as a group that while most people would assume that urban schools are often underachieving and unfixable, the Academy of St. Benedict the African has shown us all that the “problem” of Urban Education is most certainly not unsolvable. ASBA does an outstanding job of working with the families of their students to ensure that they are able to give their children a strong education in a positive environment. These are two things that we often take for granted in our own society and in the schools that we grew up attending. The school offers a great deal of educational, emotional, and child-care support, such as the Title One program, in which students who are struggling in the classroom are brought aside separately in order to bring them up to pace with their classmates, the Extended Day program, in which students stay after school and participate in activities such as music, art, dance, and forms of physical education, and personal counseling for students who are having trouble with anything from school, to family life, etc. In addition, the school offers a great deal of financial assistance to families, such as scholarships, educational grants, free/reduced lunch programs, and also, some parents are even given the opportunity to volunteer at the school itself to help pay tuition. Finally, the school runs the “I’ll be back” campaign, which is their aim to keep kids at ASBA for each new school year. They do this by setting registration goals for each grade, and rewarding the grades that reach their goals. In their eyes, it’s a win-win for both parties: the students get to continue going to school in a strong educational setting, and the school gets to continue providing that strong educational setting to each student that comes through its doors, with the help of continuing registration.

While the challenges that Urban Youth face may look like they’re restricting communities from obtaining any hope of a good education for their children, schools like the Academy of St. Benedict the African challenge this view every day, and it was great to see that first-hand. We hope you enjoyed our amateur accounts of some of the experiences we happened to face whilst journeying through good ole Chicago, and on behalf of the Urban Youth Chicago TRIPS group, here’s to signing off for good!

Eight Step Process: Immigration

Today was a very productive day for the nugget team. We went to ARISE Chicago, which is an organization founded in 1991 that helps low paid undocumented immigrants to claim their working rights and help them to understand the rights they have as workers and the things they can do to defend their rights. In simple words, the mission of ARISE is to help these workers to lose fear. We had a workshop managed by the faith and community outreach coordinator, Luke Sullivan. I learned a lot from this workshop. He gave us interesting facts about the unjust employment conditions that poor undocumented workers have to face. He also introduced the process of building up power. This process was divided in eight steps:

  1. Identify the Issue
  2. Define your base (the people or cause we are trying to help)
  3. Define the target (the people we are trying to cause an impact on)
  4. Profile target (how to move our target)
  5. Analyze power( what power we have/we lack)
  6. Identify allies (who can be brought to our side to build remaining power)
  7. Design a strategy (how to start and continue to escalate)
  8. Build organizational power ( how to build on victories and win future victories)

We got divided into two groups of three and we got a study case to apply these steps and organize our own building of power. I consider that what I learned today I will be able to apply to the organizations I am involved in school, especially with the multicultural organizations. Many times we have events to make awareness of the multicultural aspect of the college, but we do poorly on community outreach because we do not know the complete ways to reach the college community. This technique will help us to increase the communication with potential allies that could help us increase the multicultural awareness in St. Norbert College.

After the ARISE workshop, we visited Enlace again, but in a different location. We were there to help with the DAPA and DACA application workshops. Not a lot of people came to the workshops. Chris kept calling people to remind them about the event, but many cancelled. Although we did not have many clients, Lulu kept us productive. I had to translate a letter from a case to English. It was a hard letter because, according to the law process, I had to exactly translate word by word and the grammar was not very good. It took a little bit of work, but finally I finished on time. What I liked the most was to interact with people. I talked to the clients and they shared their experiences with me.

The best part was the reflection at dinner. We invited Lulu and her partner to dinner and we had the best of the conversations. We talked about our culture, our experiences on this week, Chinatown, and more. We built a nice relationship with these people, which I considered the best accomplishment of the day.

Melissa Curiel Nunez

Dear Dad…: Immigration

Dear Dad,

I write to you to let you know that my immigration trip is doing well on its mission. I had to cook enchiladas verdes today, and even though they were a little bit watery to me, I think the group liked them, so it is OK. I feel like a real cook. The transportation was very good to. Holly and Caitlin were the navigators today, and they do a good job navigating; which you know I cannot handle if I am not by myself. We met amazing people today: Brother Michel who has given his life for helping the undocumented immigrants, Sister Betty who has an amazing positivity and beautiful way of seeing the world, and Michel who had the confidence to share his impacting story about his journey to the United States and was open to any questions we had. All of these things made my day of service very joyful, but telling you about these good experiences was not the main purpose of this letter.

Do you remember how you used to tell me your story of how you got to the United States and how difficult it was for you to obtain your permanent residence? Do you remember how you explained the process of deportation to me: the time, the places, the people, and the kind of transportation you took? Today, Brother Michel showed all of these places to us. He took us to the retention center, the bus station where immigrants are sent back to their countries of origin, but before we went to the Chicago court where we got to see cases of other immigrants and their deportation cases. Dad, I felt the connection of your words to the places I went. I had you in mind all day and I pictured you there in front of the judge, staying in the detention center, and taking a bus back to Mexico. I do not know why, but I felt somewhat guilty. There was a time where you saw these places, but not in a tourist way. You stayed in those places because you were forced to, because you had no proof to stay in the country. Although you were young and single, you wanted to become a legal resident, so once you married my mom you could bring her to America without any problem and later on ensure a good future for the family you were already planning to have.

Today, I saw the faces of people in court. It was not fun. They were afraid, nervous, and broken, and I felt the impotence. Their cases affected me, Dad. I tried to be strong and understand the law procedures, but I just cannot understand why the voice of undocumented immigrants is so degraded. The majority of the attorneys ensured that the people being accused were hardworking men; people who came to this country to give a better future to their families and obviously, I agreed with them.

I always understood the struggles that you had to pass in order to become legal in this country, but the experience I had today strengthened my understanding. I just want to go home and give you a big hug. I want you to hear from my own mouth that I am grateful for all the things you have done for me. I want to thank you for being such a strong and brave man, and for having the courage of coming back in order to accomplish your goal.

I love you dad,

Thank you so much,

Your beautiful daughter,

Melissa Curiel Nunez

Highlights: Affordable Housing-Christmas in Action

After an incredibly rewarding week serving with Christmas in Action in Spartanburg, South Carolina, we made it back to St. Norbert College!  We are back safe and sound and in one piece, and we just wanted to thank everyone for their support, thoughts, and prayers!  Each of our participants wrote a little something to highlight our week and convey the impact this experience had on us!

Speaking with the homeowners was my favorite part of this week; each person has their own unique story to tell, and listening to their stories and helping them be even slightly happier is the reason for the service.  The kindness and gratitude we were shown from the church, organization, and homeowners, made me feel important and at home.


My favorite part of this week was speaking with each of the homeowners, and hearing their stories.  Each has had so many experiences and was so eager to share with us their wisdom and advice.  To see their gratitude was amazing and really made me realize how our small actions impacted their lives so much.  Seeing the reaction of Mr. and Mrs. Owens when they saw their finished handicap ramp and how much it will impact their life really made me realize the importance of human dignity and our work here this week.


I truly enjoyed going forward into the community and working with a group, that became family, to make a big difference, through our little intentions and actions, especially in building a ramp, that inspired a renewed sense of autonomy and hope for people otherwise dependent with a limited sense of mobility and individualism. It was gratifying to experience the depth of community we lived.


This week was all around enjoyable and full of memorable moments! One thing that really stuck out to me was working with the great group of people, including those in the TRIPS group (who really became just like family), and those involved in Spartanburg’s Christmas in Action. Also, talking to the homeowners and seeing their reactions when we showed them the completed projects was what really made it all worth it.


My favorite part about this week was experiencing the South Carolina culture. Throughout our entire visit, everyone was so friendly and each person we met treated us like family. The best part of the trip was going out into the community and helping those in need. Though these actions seemed small, they had a huge impact on the person we had helped. Their reactions alone were priceless and I will never forget this experience.


What really stuck out to me on this trip was being able to talk with and get to know the homeowners that we served.  Their gratitude for our service was extremely overwhelming and truly rewarding for me.  I will never forget just how happy we made these people and how much of a difference we were able to make in their lives.  I felt like our group grew together as a family as we fulfilled our mission of caring for others.


Interacting with the community was the highlight of my trip. Through this trip, our group was able to experience the culture of South Carolina and interact with the locals. Those who we helped such as the Owens family and Ms. Cunningham were immensely grateful for the service we completed. However, even those who we did not directly serve, such as the members of the church, were grateful and thankful that we aided their community. The hospitality that we encountered was unprecedented. Also, working and bonding with our trips family throughout the week was a blast.


My favorite part of this week was interacting with the people whom we were helping. It’s one thing to build a ramp or paint a house because you are told that’s what the homeowners need, but it became so much more meaningful when we could hear the stories of the homeowners themselves and constantly be reminded of how thankful they truly are.


I feel so blessed to have been able to lead a wonderful group of people on this trip with an AMAZING co-leader, aka “Pa” by the end of the week!  I was overwhelmed with the generosity and gratitude of every single person we met or worked with; they really made our group feel needed, important, and right at home.  Being able to interact and have meaningful conversations with the homeowners was by far the most impactful part of this trip for me.  Both the Owens (we built a ramp for Mr. Owens who is confined to a wheelchair) and Mrs. Cunningham (we painted her house) shared with us their life stories and graciously welcomed us into their homes.  This trip and my interactions with them showed me the importance of helping to maintain human dignity of all individuals despite their age or abilities.


It was a privilege to lead a group of fine individuals, who all brought so much to the group, which made my FANTASTIC co-leader, aka “ma”, and I very proud! Together as a group when we were serving this week, it was honestly like we have been born and raised together because it just seemed natural when we were working together. I truly believe that the people we have met, ranging from volunteers to the homeowners we served, will truly leave an everlasting impression in my head and a new outlook on life. The whole community itself was so grateful that we were there serving all the way from Wisconsin because they talked about problems with their own community members getting involved down there, which I thought was strange at first, but then realized that most communities have that problem and going and serving around the country or world is just as important as serving in your very own community. So in a nut shell, simply just love and care for your neighbor no matter the distance or problem always be there for one another, because we are a big old family!


Closing Time: Affordable Housing-Christmas in Action

Today was our last day together serving with Christmas in Action in Spartanburg, and to be honest it feels like we just got down here! It is sad leaving this community because they really made us feel like part of their community throughout this week! The church invited us to so many activities, such as Bible study, mass, and so many more!  Also, Christmas in Action provided meals for us each night and made sure we knew exactly how to get to each location, even if we still did get lost due to the GPS.

Honestly I’m speechless about this trip experience because it was an amazing feeling leading this trip with Haley! It was a great group we had, and I do believe that we will all keep a great and everlasting relationship from the experiences we had this week.  Everyone in the group called Haley and I ma and pa!

I felt that there were so many people that have impacted my life on this trip that it is hard to name just one in particular, but I do believe that two that really stuck out to me were Joan and Ken. They both just have a dying passion to serve those in need and want to be active members in their community. They both are willing to do anything for Christmas in Action and know how important it is to serve and use the gifts that God has given us. As long as you have two usable hands and feet, why not try to use those to do God’s work! They also both had such a positive attitude, no matter how tough the job was or how much they had on their plate, they were always smiling or staying flat out positive! Another thing that they taught me was as long as you stay positive and happy towards others, life will be easy because there is nothing worth stressing out about or getting angry at another person for!


Today some of our group members went to help a Christmas in Action volunteer, Bill, do some food packing for the site leaders for Christmas in Action build day in the morning, and then we all met up at the Owens family’s house to finally finish that ramp! It was cool being able to see the final product, and then it was amazing seeing Mr. Owens roll down the ramp in his wheel chair for the first time and his wife was so happy to see him be able to be outside because Mr. Owens loved being outside and was trapped in the house otherwise! Also this helped him be able to go to his dialysis appointments, which is a great and very helpful thing for him and his wife. Then we ate a dinner provided by Christmas in Action and visited Ms. Cunningham, whom we painted the house for. It was really awesome to be able to just sit and talk with her for a little while because it meant the world to her and she was so sad to see us leave, that it was hard to leave her!

All in all I can’t say I would have wanted this trip to go any differently, because we were able to accomplish so much and also at the same time create a TRIPS group family along the way! I am blessed for all the members / friends in the group, all the people that we met down here, and also for my co-leader, Haley!

Adam LaLuzerne