Spring Forward: Kent State Health Services Major Devotes Spring Break Trips to Helping Others for Four Years and Counting
During spring break the last four years, while his friends were basking on a beach or blowing off steam in Las Vegas, Jake Addessi was helping to renovate a community building in the Ninth District of New Orleans or packing up food for the hungry in Chicago.
The senior health-services major has participated in Alternative Spring Break (ASB) through the Kent State University’s Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement for each of his four years at Kent State. The ASB program exposes students to social justice and cultural issues through direct service. Students are immersed in the communities they visit, so they gain a deeper understanding of different cultures and the challenges people from disadvantaged communities often face.
“These trips take you out of your comfort zone,” said Addessi, 22, of North Canton. “They open your eyes to a world that you have had no experience with. You have to do your best to put yourself in the shoes of others who may not be in the most ideal circumstances. You strive for realization and unconditional compassion for others.”
Addessi has taken weeklong ASB trips to Buffalo, Chicago, Youngstown and, most recently, New Orleans, where he helped restore a community center that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Hard work is part of every trip, but Addessi said he came away from each location with more than he gave.
In Buffalo, his reward was a conversation with an elderly man, who shared stories of his struggle with addiction and homelessness. In Chicago, he had the honor of waiting tables at Inspiration Café, where men and women in need are served restaurant-style meals in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. In every city, he said, he gained perspective.
“We have this beautiful campus, and when you’re here every day and you’re in the loop of things, you might complain about little things here and there,” Addessi said. “And I totally get it. But when you go to these places on alternative spring break, you start to appreciate every little thing you have, and you don’t worry as much about the sink draining too slow. It just puts things into perspective.”
Addessi said caring for others and giving back to society are themes his family exposed him to from an early age. He learned about Kent State's ASB program from his mother, a Licensed Practical Nurse at the Veteran's Administration Outpatient Clinic in Canton.
Alexandra Ulbricht, assistant director of the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement, says Addessi’s extraordinary dedication to the program has been an inspiration to others. For this reason, she said, he has been asked to serve on the program’s Student Service Leader staff.
“Jake has gone above and beyond in his commitment to service through the ASB program,” Ulbricht said. “We hear wonderful feedback from our students about their life-changing experiences on these trips, and some come back for more. However, Jake’s level of commitment to participating for four years has made him a role model and leader.”
Students leave ASB with skills and experiences that potential employers value. At least one organization already has invited Addessi to apply for an internship. But, he said, the chance that this work may help him with future opportunities is a bonus, not the goal.
“We know when we go on these trips that we aren’t going to cure everything or make everything better, but we are one step toward it,” Addessi said. “Yes, we do help. But we get a lot out of it, too.”
Ulbricht said she has known students who have come back from ASB and are so moved by the experience that they change their majors.
“I have seen these trips impact students in so many positive ways, from gaining the confidence to speak up for what they believe in to finding their passion through serving others,” Ulbricht said. “Witnessing students in these critical and sometimes life-changing moments has been such a joy, and I think it defines what we are about here in the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement.”
Addessi, who is planning at least one more ASB trip as a Student Service Leader, said he isn’t sure exactly what he will be doing in 10 years, but he knows he will be helping others. After he graduates from Kent State and leaves the ASB program behind, he intends to find other service organizations where he can volunteer his time.
“This isn’t just about helping others or traveling,” Addessi said. “These trips are very powerful, but only if you allow them to be. They show you things that you aren't used to and enrich your life in a way you couldn't even expect or imagine.”