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University of Iowa Dance Marathon Travels to Arkansas, Yee Haw!

This post was written by Elizabeth Jackson, a student at the University of Iowa who attended the University of Iowa Dance Marathon Alternative Spring Break trip.

University of Iowa Dance Marathon students visited the Arkansas Children’s Mission Center at the beginning of their trip. They learned about the mission of Arkansas Children’s to champion children by making them better today and healthier tomorrow.

     Spring Break is a time for relaxing, seeing family, going on tropical vacations, and catching up on some Netflix binge-watching. But for a team of 17 University of Iowa Dance Marathon participants, Spring Break meant being a part of something bigger than themselves. Through the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, and Hawkeye Service Teams, this year a University of Iowa Dance Marathon sponsored Alternative Spring Break trip traveled down to Little Rock, Arkansas to become more educated on children’s health while spreading their lime at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The University of Iowa Dance Marathon (UIDM) creates and sustains special projects to provide emotional and financial support and services for pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant patients and their families treated at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. UIDM is the largest student organization of the University of Iowa Campus, and has raised over $27 million in the past 25 years toward its mission.

UIDM raised over $2.9M in 2019 for UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, the University of Iowa’s local CMN Hospital. 

    Leaving bright and early on the first Saturday of Spring Break, the team drove nine hours down to Little Rock and spent four days and five nights immersed in the South. Though sleeping on the ground of a church may not sound like the typical college Spring Break experience, the team grew close and bonded during late nights and early mornings. Alternative Spring Break trips require 24-hours of service and the group filled their hours in varying ways.

UIDM students with Shauna (left), a Respiratory Therapist for Angel One Transport who taught the students about Arkansas Children’s transport department. 

     Arkansas Children’s Hospital is one of the largest in the United States and serves an entire population of children in Arkansas. The group of students worked with volunteer coordinators and spent each day in the hospital volunteering. Tasks included having a lively craft party in the outpatient waiting area, brightening children’s day with art carts (carts full of fun art supplies to make wait times go by quickly), and participating in a campus beautification projects, all while having spontaneous dance parties. The team also volunteered at the local Ronald McDonald house and met their adorable dog, Mac as well as the Volunteer Coordinator who was an Iowa native (Go Hawks!). Coordinating with a local church, the group also served dinner for the homeless, getting a chance to sit down and gain a little perspective on life and immerse themselves in a different setting from the hospital.

UIDM helped Arkansans Children’s celebrate #childrenshospitalsweek while on campus by handing out band aids at the main entrance. 

     Though this may not sound glamorous, Alternative Spring Break trips emphasize serving the community in ways that they require and not serving based on the trip’s own pre-convinced plans. One member of the trip broke down this idea in a very simple way saying that we do the small things so they are able to do the big things. Thinking in this mindset motivated students in all of the work they did and humbled their experiences within the community. It also gave students a way to reflect on the social issues they experienced and saw around them.

UIDM students spent the week volunteering alongside another Alternative Spring Break group from Georgia Southern University. 

     One component to an Alternative Spring Break is also cultural immersion. Prior to heading down to Arkansas, the team learned the importance of immersing themselves within a culture or community in order to attempt a better understanding of diverse backgrounds. Students on the Little Rock trip got a workout in at Pinnacle Mountain, enjoyed ice cream at the River Landing, and learned more about American history and current racial issues during a tour of Little Rock Central High School, the location of the famous historic group – the Little Rock Nine.

University of Iowa Dance Marathon students were able to climb Pinnacle Mountain together while in Little Rock for their Spring Break trip.

     The trip was full of growth, learning, late night talks, and lots of car dancing but overall the team was able to shape their impact in a new way while re-shaping their own “why”. Traveling to Arkansas Children’s Hospital exposed students to a new perspective on children’s health. It provided them with a new way to spread their lime across the country, create lasting relationships with hospital and volunteer coordinators, and leave them inspired on new ways to create a difference in a child’s life.