For those of you who traveled as an Outreach360 volunteer to the Dominican Republic between 2015 and 2017, you’ll remember OLÉ Leader turned Team Leader turned Site Director, Beth Anderson. For the first time in nearly two years, Beth will be returning to Monte Cristi as a Group Leader on her alma mater’s alternative break trip.
Beth is currently the Assistant Director at Southern New Hampshire University’s Chandler Center (formerly the Center for Community Engaged Learning). SNHU sends student volunteer teams down to Outreach360’s site in Monte Cristi, the Dominican Republic annually and it was on one of those trips that Beth was first introduced to the organization. Naturally, she jumped at the opportunity to support in leading her students on the exact trip that had such a big influence on her just four years ago.
Our Development Director, Audrey Sharp, who served alongside Beth for their first six months on staff in the Dominican Republic interviewed Beth on her upcoming return to Monte Cristi.
Audrey: Pretend we’re not best friends and I don’t know everything about your life. Beth: Ok. Woo! Here we go.
Audrey: Hey Beth! Beth: It’s good to see you! Audrey: How are you? Beth: Good! Thanks for taking some time to talk to me today. Audrey: No, thank you! So, how long has it been since you were last in Monte Cristi? Beth: Umm… let’s see. I left May 30th, 2017 so it has been a little over a year and a half. Yeah, it will be two years this May. Audrey: And so you’re heading back on March 9th. And who are you going with? Beth: I’m going down with Southern New Hampshire University’s alternative break team. Audrey: Does it feel full circle for you to go from volunteering as a student to working for Outreach360 and then coming back with students of your own? Beth: Oh it does feel so full circle! It’s weird. When I think about it… I’ve almost done every single piece of alternative break. Right? Like I was a participant and then I was a trip leader and then I was a community partner and now I’m an advisor. And so… aside from running the alternative break program, I’ve really done every piece of it. And that’s especially true with Outreach360, going from volunteer to an OLÉ volunteer to Team Leader and right to Site Director and now as someone who still stays as actively involved as I can in the goings-on, it’s kind of interesting.
Audrey: Do you feel in every layer of the alternative break world that you get into that you’re still getting something new out of the experience?
Beth: Yeah! I think it’s all how you look at it. Every time I have a different experience with Outreach360, I’m asking myself what I can bring to it but also what I can get out of it. As a first-time volunteer with Outreach360, it was very much like, “I don’t know anything here so I’m just going to jump in and see how it goes.” Whereas now the experience is more about the volunteers and making sure that my students are getting a lot out of the experience. I could go into it acting like I already know everything; that’s a really easy mentality to take on, especially after having been there for two years and being the community partner, but for me, this still is a new experience. I’ve never been an advisor before so trying that on and making sure that the students are basically having that first-time experience that I did is important for me. Audrey: I think with alternative breaks, we tend to use hyperbolic language, like “It was life-changing,” or “I’m bringing so much back from this trip,” but you don’t necessarily get the specifics. So, I’m curious… What are the specific thoughts or memories or concepts you want your students to come back with? If you had to pick three, what do you think they’re most likely to get out of it and/or you’re hoping they get out of it? Beth: That’s a great question! I think what I hope they get out of it is: 1. A deeper understanding of themselves and their roles and responsibilities as it relates to the community. I want them to walk away feeling like even though it is a different community with a different culture, they can still have successes and triumphs. 2. I hope they build some meaningful relationships with people in Monte Cristi. It’s a really special place in my heart and those people have forever changed the way that I think and view the world and other people from other cultures. I hope they are able to gain some cultural competency from that. 3. Deeper connections with each other and themselves; I hope they come to understand that nobody can do this work on their own and that the week that they have together reinforces their belief in humanity and that we all need each other. Audrey: That’s such an important lesson! Beth: Yeah!
Audrey: On a personal level, what are you most excited about? Beth: I’m most excited to reconnect with everyone there! The Outreach360 staff, students, and community members. It feels like visiting family I’m overdue to see! And of course, the food.
Audrey: What are you most excited to eat? Beth: Oh, literally everything! I’ve been thinking about this a lot actually… no surprise. I just want all the food, like rice and beans, stewed chicken… like I can’t. Sweet plantains, tostones, and I can’t wait to visit Mecho and have some juice. Audrey: Are there any souvenirs or Dominican treats that you’re already planning on bringing back? Beth: Yes! Chokis, it’s a chocolate chip cookie, kind of like a Dominican Chips Ahoy but it also has chocolate in the middle. And I’ll definitely bring back some Santo Domingo coffee. I’ll try to bring back as much as I can. I miss that coffee a lot. Audrey: So, you’ve stayed a Touch the Future student sponsor this whole time, starting back when you were an OLÉ. Why do you continue to sponsor students in both our programs? Why is that important to you? Beth: That’s a great question! It’s because I believe in the work that’s being done. And when I was there, it was really easy to see the work the volunteers were doing, it was easy to make that connection in real time. But I also understood that we couldn’t have done that without the support of donors who had decided to stay involved. So for me, it is a no brainer. I am, of course, going to stay involved however I can. The students clearly want this opportunity so why wouldn’t I do anything in my means to make that possible?
Audrey: Finally, what is your favorite Outreach360 principle and why? Beth: Man… they’re so near and dear to my heart and I say that with no sarcasm. I love those principles so much. I think it’s a great way to live your life. I still think “poco a poco” is one of my favorites… just because it speaks to the work of social change. Things don’t happen fast and they don’t happen easily but it doesn’t mean that they’re any less important or that you should give up and stop doing it. So, little by little, every piece of the puzzle matters and every person contributes to something and I think when people realize that and connect to it, a lot of change can happen because you have so many forces working towards it. I think people can often get frustrated with progress. And I’ve been there too. So I think it’s important to have something to fall back on and for me, I think “poco a poco” does that. It keeps me humble.