With March just around the corner, alternative spring breaks are upon us - the busiest time of year for programs and community partners. We've found ourselves reflecting on what this means not just for executing high quality direct service, but for those tenuous weeks back on campus after ASBs: reorientation.
Consider Break Away's revised definition for reorientation (circa 2014):
Reorientation: the process by which participants transfer experiences and lessons learned (on break) by reorganizing into communities of action.
So - what if programs began using alternative breaks as a training ground for future community organizers, teaching students the skills to identify and address issues in their own communities by connecting and mobilizing small groups? (This is, by the way, not an accidental mirror of small alternative break teams.)
To help accomplish this, we’ve honed in on some ideas from our friends John McKnight and Peter Block (authors of Abundant Community - a Break Away staff favorite book).
Block and McKnight tout the importance of identifying assets and shared values in a community - rather than focusing only on deficits. The first step in asset-based community development? Joining an association. An association is any small group that meets regularly, voluntarily, and based on a shared interest. Chances are, you’re already a part of some associations: residence hall council; your campus living wage campaign; even a knitting club.
When we commit to small groups like this, not only do we get a chance to meet other peers and community members - we also gain insight into one another’s day-to-day concerns, victories, and recurring challenges. Even when associations are not expressly dedicated to direct service, advocacy, activism, or philanthropy, what we learn as active participants helps us engage in our communities with intention - and lays the groundwork for future community building.
So yes - gather as a program to celebrate all that the program and community partners accomplished together. And then pursue long-term shifts in your own community with this radically simple approach: join small associations. Believe it or not, this is reorientation - the big picture.