Starting next semester, following a series of changes in leadership and accountability, the popular Reach Out organization will lead more service-oriented experiences abroad.
Currently in its 10th year of operation, Reach Out — an undergraduate organization that coordinates service trips for students to foster a sense of global responsibility — has developed a reputation in recent years for funding international vacations under the guise of service trips, said Reach Out Co-President Aobo Guo ’15, adding that many students return from these trips feeling unfulfilled. But by increasing organizational interaction and implementing more rigorous standards of leadership and service for trips, board members said they hope to improve the experience, safety and organization of each trip.
“I hope that this will lead to more meaningful experiences for participants, in terms of actually gaining more knowledge about the community that they’ll be visiting and really expanding their minds,” said Evelyn Nunez ’15, who will be leading a Reach Out trip to the Dominican Republic over spring break. “I hope this helps participants define what effective community service is and what it means to be an effective participant in community service.”
In order to increase the quality of service trips, Reach Out denied a greater number of trip applications this year than they have in the past, said Reach Out Co-President Billy Moran ’16. The organization is offering seven trips this spring, compared to nine last spring. Three trip destinations were denied this year, and another trip was accepted only under the condition that it met certain service stipulations.
Guo said that in the past, board members remained largely uninvolved in the planning of the trips themselves, leaving most of the responsibilities up to the leaders — but this caused an imbalance in trip quality because some leaders were not as well-prepared as others to lead their groups.
Some students returned from trips disappointed that their experiences did not measure up to the promised levels of service, Moran said. Guo said that this year, students will be immersed into local issues and will participate in meaningful hands-on service, unlike the “poverty tourism” of years past. In addition, in adherence with a new requirement from Reach Out’s umbrella organization Dwight Hall, all trips this year will be required to account for six hours of service out of each 12-hour day.
Nunez said that five days of her 10-day Dominican Republic trip will focus purely on an impoverished immigrant community, with no tourism or city exploration.
“We’re there for such a short period of time that we want to make sure we’re doing as much as we can, learning as much as we can and building relationships that are meaningful and hopefully can continue after the program,” Nunez said.
Safety has also been a concern in the past, Moran said, adding that though Reach Out board members expect trip leaders to have a solid knowledge of their destination, some groups in past years have found themselves in potentially dangerous situations. This year’s board denied a trip to a country that was listed on the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list, Moran said, but this may not have been caught in previous years.
Moran added that at least one trip leader is required to speak the language of the destination country — a standard stipulated by Dwight Hall. Board members are also more hands-on with trip itineraries this year, keeping track of details such as bus transportation from one site to another.
“We have less to worry about since we’re being so micromanaging this year,” Guo said. “We’re trying to cut down on a lot of potential international issues, and the changes this year are actually going to be really effective for minimizing problems.”
Reach Out was also inspired to expand its mission this year, Moran said, aiming to emphasize a type of service that does not directly involve an immediate positive impact. He said service can also include learning about a country, then taking that education and inspiring change in other communities.
The organization will lead a trip to Iceland over spring break focusing on successful sustainable initiatives. Participants will hopefully return with new insights to share with the Yale community, Moran said.
The Reach Out board — which is composed of Guo, Moran, two trip directors, a treasurer and an outreach coordinator — aims to foster a greater sense of community amongst the entire organization as well, Moran said, as participants from different trips often remain disconnected, despite having similar interests. Reach Out is also planning to coordinate fundraising efforts to cover trip costs. While Reach Out received funding from the Pierson College Master’s Office in past years, board members said they are not sure whether they will be able to do the same this year with the arrival of a new master.
Over spring break, Reach Out will offer trips to seven destinations — Dominica, The Dominican Republic, Iceland, India, Jamaica, The Philippines and Sri Lanka.