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University of South Florida Students Partner with Monarch for Service Spring Break

4 Spring BreakWhen 19 students from the University of South Florida (USF) first walked into Mecklenburg’s Briarcreek home this month, everyone was a little unsure of what to expect. The students had driven more than 500 miles from Tampa to Charlotte to spend time with the people we support in Monarch’s residential and transitional housing program.

But soon after the group conducted an icebreaker game and set up board games around the house, the sounds of laugher and conversation could be heard all around.

The students’ trip to Monarch was part of an alternative spring break sponsored by USF’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement. Rather than trips to the beach or other exotic getaways during spring break, the center helps groups take trips focused on social issues ranging from hunger and homelessness to disability awareness. The visit was planned entirely by the students and occurred during spring break and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

Brandi Arnold, the group’s site leader, said at first she was a little nervous and unsure of what to expect before the trip. But as they engaged with the people we support in Mecklenburg and at Campus Park Drive through art projects and games the collective consensus from the students was their visit to Monarch was a positive experience.

“We have learned so much from this organization and its participants,” Arnold said. “We didn’t know they would teach us more than we would teach them.”

Mecklenburg Program Director Melinda Pompey said the people we support who participated in the week of activities really enjoyed themselves.  “The conversations were a big deal for most of the people we support - having someone interested in what they had to say and just interested in them as a person meant the most and had a huge impact,” she said.

Barry Matheney, a site leader on the trip, explained that it helped everyone gain a greater understanding of disability awareness and gave the students the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with people they normally wouldn’t have interacted with.

“There really is no difference between someone with a mental disability and one of us. We’re all still people on this earth that have a wide variety of challenges and emotions. Ultimately, we just want a greater understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to serve each other.”

Click here to watch a video of their visit.

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