The Mission: I’m Home (MIH) organization is celebrating its 10-year anniversary by continuing to take Stevenson students—and alumni—to help rehabilitate disaster sites, including New Orleans, New Jersey, Staten Island, and also to serve communities in Baltimore. These relief trips give students the opportunity to spend their Spring Break helping those in need.
Today, nearly 700 students have attended 25 service trips that have helped bring more than 50 families back into their homes, according to Morgan Somerville, Director of Student Engagement. “These trips have formed lasting bonds that have led to an increase in community engagement and volunteerism,” she says. “Many alumni continue to participate in Mission: I’m Home trips because they see it as an important way to serve their alma mater and positively influence the next generation of Mustangs.”
Since the group’s founding in March 2009, it has grown from one Spring Break trip to rebuild in New Orleans with 24 participants to four programs a year with more than 100 participants, Somerville says. “Our strong relationship with the SBP, a national organization dedicated to shrinking the time between disaster and recovery, has allowed us to expand our reach to five communities devastated by natural disasters: New Orleans; Staten Island, N.Y.; Monmouth County, N.J.; Baton Rouge, La., and Houston. As a result of our students’ desire to give back to our local community, we created the Fall Serve program during the Fall Break where we partner with a number of Baltimore-based nonprofits. This March, Spring Serve was created in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Sustainability as an effort to volunteer with Baltimore-area nonprofits supporting the Chesapeake Bay.”
Participants from MIH trips report the experience as life-changing. A week of manual labor, cultural experiences, and reflections allows students to step outside of their comfort zones while learning the real impact they can have on the community. To date, five MIH alumni have gone on to serve with AmeriCorps, several work for nonprofits, and even more are actively involved with serving their communities through volunteer opportunities and serving on the boards of nonprofits.
Several alumni reflect fondly on their time with the organization. KJ Renfroe (business administration/minor in human services ’17), a master’s candidate of the Healthcare Management program scheduled to graduate in 2019, currently works as a Project Coordinator in the office of the Chief Operating Officer at Johns Hopkins Healthcare.
“I participate on Mission: I'm Home trips as a graduate to continue to grow as a person and help others do the same. This trip is all about helping others and creating lifelong bonds. I've noticed that a lot of members are graduating and leaving to do great things all over the United States, which is amazing! And even though they are all over the U.S. working hard and changing the world, I know I will still have that special bond and that special connection with each and every one of them. As an alum, I want to make sure that the new members feel that same bond and connection. Mission: I'm Home is a family and coming on these trips every year gives me a chance to meet new members of our family, and show them what we're about. I also come on these trips so I can continue give back to our community and so I can continue to understand what goes on to those around us. It is so easy to forget about the natural disasters that take place because we are stuck in our own reality. MIH trips give us a chance to understand the realities of those who've suffered from these disasters: seeing it on television and seeing it in person are two totally different things.
Aaron Milam (computer information systems, business technology management ’18), who works at Berkshire Associates Inc., also continues to participate in MIH because of “the profound impact and unique experience every year. You would think that after seven of the trips, I would have seen it all,” he adds. “But that's not the case. Each year brings about new emotional understanding, lasting friendships, a better sense of self and, most importantly, the opportunity to truly make a positive change in the lives of others.
“Participation has enhanced my professional life by making it apparent to me what's truly important in life. I now work in an environment where there's a great deal of social responsibility and I can make a difference all year long. My personal life has been enhanced by meeting lifelong friends and reaffirming existing relationships.
Shalon Edwards (biology ’10), is a Senior Research Analyst at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She calls her first Mission: I'm Home trip “a self-healing mission”; Edwards was one of several displaced students who were attending Xavier University of Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “This trip was the first time I'd returned to NOLA. The week we spent did more work on my heart than on my body—and the work was physically laboring—and it allowed me to reconnect with my second home, some friends I hadn't seen in years, and actually give back to a city that gave me so many warm memories.
“Since graduating, I've participated in three trips. I can—and cannot—believe it's been 10 years since the first trip! As a founding member of MIH, my connection to Stevenson is strengthened from witnessing the increased support MIH receives from the university. The number of students recruited into this cause since its inception has dramatically increased as have the number of trips to assist in the recovery of several other locations in need. Knowing that SU cares about places that aren’t part of its immediate community reminds me that I chose the right place to complete my degree.”
Today, Somerville says that the program will continue to offer students, faculty, staff, and alumni the opportunity to participate in one of the four programs serving a variety of communities throughout the United States. “We are in the planning stages of a reunion trip to New Orleans with details to be shared soon.”
For more information please visit facebook.com/SUMissionImHome.