"I recognized my responsibility in making our world a more accepting, empowering home for everyone"
Becky Trytten (bottom row, 4th from left) says, "My service-learning experiences have played a role in almost all of my professional decisions."
What attracted you to participate in an alternative break or other community service experience?
I am always slightly embarrassed about how my ASB adventure began. A fellow freshman, Sara Wolf Allis ('99), approached me in the basement study lounge of Chappelear with an idea. She was talking about an opportunity to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. What I heard was that there was a cheap trip to Florida during spring break. I signed up expecting it to be a great adventure, a unique travel opportunity, a chance to enjoy spring break and an opportunity to make new friends. And it was all of those things. But it was also the first time I really witnessed social inequalities. And the first time I recognized my responsibility in making our world a more accepting, empowering home for everyone, regardless of their economic situation.
While this was a very new experience for me (my previous "service" projects included raking leaves for suburban seniors, donating blood, and baking for fundraisers), JMU's Office of Community Service-Learning prepared us well for our Alternative Break experience. Their pre-trip focus was not only on team-building, but also on learning about the issues in the host community (e.g. looking at correlations between literacy rates and demographics, and comparing unemployment rates).
Once the project began, we were stationed alongside future Habitat homeowners, working, laughing, and building relationships that forever altered our personal understanding of the word "homeless." After a day of building homes, we would read articles about social justice and ask ourselves those classic debriefing questions... "What? So What? Now What?" Those conversations with other JMU students, after a day of intense physical labor, were some of the most memorable conversations of my college education. It was the first time that many of us really acknowledged the place of privilege we were coming from, and we openly struggled to identify how we might change our world.
Becky Trytten's 1997 ASB trip was to the Johnson-Brinson Center in Madison, Fla. "David Dukes, the founder of Johnson-Brinson, ran an afterschool program in his home. … I know I'm not the only one who still thinks of him as an inspiration more than 10 years later. He faced his life's challenges with honesty and stubbornness. It wasn't just his belief that he could make a difference, it was his confidence that each of us could."
How did your experience influence your academic career at JMU?
In many ways, my academic career became secondary to my CS-L career. After leading an ASB trip my sophomore year, I was fortunate to be a part of the CS-L student staff during my junior and senior years. An English major/biology minor, I found myself choosing electives like professor Karen Ford's social welfare class, which enhanced all of my service-learning experiences. It was my ASB/CS-L experiences that helped me get me my first post-JMU job, coordinating volunteers and youth service opportunities with the American Red Cross.
How has it continued to have an impact in your life?
My service-learning experiences have played a role in almost all of my professional decisions. I earned my master's degree in risk and prevention (Ed.M.) from Harvard's Graduate School of Education, a path that was partially inspired by David Dukes, the coordinator of the Johnson-Brinson Project in Madison, Fla., and the host of my sophomore year spring break trip.
My husband and I recently finished a Peace Corps assignment in Fiji, which is, at its essence, a two year service-learning experience. The duration is longer, and the language requirements are more intense, but Peace Corps is about recognizing our common humanity and the benefits of working together. It's a lesson I first learned with some amazing Dukes way back in Boca, Spring Break '96.