Madeline Jones - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad? 

I have always been interested in traveling. Exploring new regions of the country and the world is thrilling for me, and the fact that I would be camping the entire time on my trip was exciting because I have never done something on that level before. The combination of all the new experiences I would be a part of made the trip impossible to pass up.

Teenage volunteers preparing bagged lunches
Preparing bagged lunches for the homeless in Berkeley - our entire group worked together in an assembly line to ensure each lunch contained a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a bag of chips, a granola bar, and a dessert.

Why did you choose the ARCC program?

Besides the location of the trip and the overall positive reviews of the ARCC program, the community service on the trip I would be a part of was focused around serving the food insecure. Additionally, my group was able to shop for our food by planning meals and then preparing them. This particularly piqued my interest because I hope to pursue a future in food science and nutrition.

What was your favorite part about exploring California?

I loved exploring the natural wonders of Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Pictures truly do not do the scenery justice and being able to experience everything for myself and getting to see the Milky Way and the sunset from Yosemite or splashing around in the water of Lake Tahoe after hiking around the area was so satisfying.

Tourists at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
On our exploration day through San Francisco, one of the many stops we made was at the Golden Gate Bridge!

What aspects of your program made your experience unique? 

Being able to serve those in the communities of the places I traveled was extremely unique. My group volunteered with nonprofits such as the Glide Foundation and the St. Anthony's Foundation.

Through volunteering we were able to talk with those being served, and hearing some of their stories is a memory I will hold forever.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff were so patient with my group. Many people had never camped before or cooked with open fires, and the staff helped and encouraged us in every endeavor, establishing an open and friendly environment that set the tone for the entire trip. They also made sure that everyone felt important and included in everything we did, from icebreakers to surfing to daily bonding.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I wish I had taken more advantage of the opportunities presented. In retrospect, there were a few times I put comfort over experience; for example, most nights I slept in my tent to avoid bug bites, instead of sleeping on a tarp under the stars. Other times, I passed up exploring parts of Yosemite because I didn't feel like I had the energy to go on a small hike to get to the view.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

We would start the day around 7 a.m., with breakfast and preparing for the day. A typical breakfast was bagels with cream cheese, peanut butter, and nutella. Then, we would head out for our activity, whether it be service or an exploration day of the city we were in. We would stay out until around four, eating packed sandwiches for lunch. After we returned to our campsite, we would hang out until dinner, which was prepared by our daily chefs. For dinner, we often ate grilled cheese or pasta. Then, clean crew was responsible for cleaning dishes and once everything was put away, we would all get ready for evening circle.

Moutain view in Yosemite National Park
At one of the look outs in Yosemite National Park

During evening circle we talked about our day, things we enjoyed and possible lows of the day. We always had a go-around question; someone would pose an interesting question and everyone would go around answering it. These questions ranged from "what is your spirit animal" to "when was the last time you did something for the first time?" Evening circle always ended with an overview of our next day and quick meditation, quieting yourself for the night. 

Every day people had personal responsibilities ranging from cook crew to ensuring that our campground was clean and "bear proof." These jobs made our trip run smoothly and kept us all organized.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

During our free time, I enjoyed sitting around with others on tarps or in hammocks and just talking. This way we were all able to get to know one another and bond, making our group dynamics stronger.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

We camped every night. Our accommodations varied from one campsite to another. Some were populated, others deserted. Some had showers, and these campsites were my favorite. They all had some sort of restroom; however, some were port-a-potties, while others were true bathrooms with plumbing and sinks.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

You will be challenged. Your mental and emotional strength will be challenged daily when you have to wake up early after long nights and exhausting service work. You will be physically challenged as well as you do trail service that is physically taxing after days of hiking.

Now that you're home, how has your program impacted your life?

I feel like I am living with a new peace and appreciation of life. My leaders definitely encouraged soul-searching and I believe that being able to get away from daily distractions, such as school, social media, and other responsibilities, and helped us focus on ourselves and what we want our lives to look like.

View of Lake Tahoe
After a hike in the morning, we were able to spend an afternoon relaxing at a beach in Lake Tahoe.

Would you recommend your ARCC program to others? Why?

I would completely recommend this program to others. I not only have found a wonderful new friend group that I plan to stay in touch with for a while and visit each other, but I was able to learn a lot about myself. I learned that I love serving others, but sometimes you need to be served as well. I learned that it is crucial to appreciate the little things and take time for yourself to just relax in the presence of others.

I am so thankful for the incredible opportunity I had to be immersed in new cultures and be a part of something bigger than myself, and I believe that this program is something that everyone can find themselves enjoying regardless of their backgrounds and interests.