Adam Womack, Connections manager for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, coordinates large and small-scale mission projects to ADRA locations around the world. Last summer saw the first "Connections Extreme" trip, which took hundreds of students to a remote part of South America. We asked Womack about his job and how ADRA trips are unique.
Question: You are in charge of ADRA Connections. What is it all about?
Answer: ADRA Connections is a program that allows volunteers to get involved with ADRA’s mission with a hands-on approach. We offer short-term mission trips to our existing, sustainable projects all over the world.
How many ADRA Connections and Connections Extreme trips are there every year? It looks like you go to tons of places!
ADRA Connections umbrellas all of our trips and efforts; we will coordinate around 10 to 15 trips each year.
ADRA Connections Extreme is a large, university-age mission trip involving university students from the United states and other countries who come together to do one huge project, often living in more extreme conditions.
How is ADRA Connections different than other mission trips, like Maranatha?
Our mission trips are predicated on leveraging our ADRA network. We have offices in over 130 different countries and our network staff live, breathe and eat there. What I mean is, they know the communities and their needs, and they know exactly which projects would benefit by a group of volunteers. That is what sets us apart and what makes our projects so sustainable.
Also, our projects focus on community development and not only construction. While some of our projects do involve construction of schools, they normally dovetail into lager, community-based initiatives that bring agriculture, education, equity and/or other humanitarian goals to the beneficiary.
How long has ADRA been facilitating trips for college students?
This is not a new program for ADRA, other countries have done ADRA Connections quite successfully. However, here in the United States, it is quite new. Our extreme project to the Amazon was our kickoff, inaugural event that started our mission trip experiences offered to students.
We also offer trips to church groups, academy groups, corporations, and even families.
How many people went on the ADRA Connections Extreme trip to the Amazon? How did it go?
We had more than 200 students and staff volunteers on the trip. We successfully finished building the school, even though we had a very tight schedule. The trip was amazing, and everyone had a great time.
How do you choose where to go?
For the extreme trip in July 2018, we worked with ADRA Brazil years in advance to identify a project that could support that many volunteers. It was 30 hours downriver from the city of Manaus and our time spent on the boats was what made it such a unique experience.
For our regular trips, we do a needs assessment with each country that is asking for a group of volunteers, and they must submit a concept note for the proposed project.
Do these trips really help the local people in the places you visit, or are they mostly about giving the college students an impactful experience?
We absolutely want our student volunteers to have an impactful experience, no mistake about it. But by far the focus is on the beneficiaries. In Brazil, building the school was a dream for many people, especially missionaries who helped start it. There was satisfaction from all involved that the children who attend the school when it was done would benefit the most. Like our ADRA Connections experience in Brazil, all of our trips will work toward projects that focus on changing the lives and livelihoods of our community beneficiaries.
How do the trips work out for ADRA financially? Do you underwrite the cost significantly? Or do you make money from the people who travel? How expensive are they to go on?
We have designed a business model that will allow us to grow our program in the years to come and offer more and more mission trip opportunities. We have private funding available to offer scholarships to many of our student volunteers, but the cost we charge covers the project, the in-country transportation, and any food/lodging/tourism that we do on the trip.
How many people have been on an ADRA Connections or extreme trip so far altogether?
We have done three regular trips (20 to 30 people) and one extreme trip so far. Around 300 volunteers have traveled with us. Since we are just beginning, that number will continue to go up in the months and years to come.
What is your background? How did you come to be organizing trips for inexperienced young people to remote, far-flung places?
I studied international relations and law in undergrad along with History and Spanish at Southern Adventist University. I have a master’s degree in healthcare administration from the University of Central Florida and I worked at Florida Hospital for eight years. My background in fundraising, leadership, project management, international relations and languages has helped me transfer nicely into the humanitarian and development profession.
What do you like the most about your job? What do you find to be most challenging?
I really enjoy seeing other parts of the world, learning about the way other people live and think, and finding ways to help improve their lives. It is challenging to start a program and build it up, but that is also the fun part. I am excited about our future and I know that we will benefit many people and communities for years to come.
Alita Byrd is Interviews Editor for Spectrum.
Image courtesy of ADRA.
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