Students Dive Into Service Projects on Alternative Spring Breaks
Instead of traveling to a bustling beach in Florida or a cross-country trip to the Rocky Mountains, Kent State students embarked on a variety of alternative volunteer trips during this year’s spring break.
The alternative spring break trips are hosted by Community Engaged Learning, which “promotes a culture of active and engaged learners by integrating opportunities for students to apply theories and knowledge through real-world experiences,” according to its website.
Students were able to choose from eight different trips for their service-focused spring break ranging from Ohio to the Dominican Republic.
Funding support from Career Exploration and Development (CED) and United Christian Ministries (UCM) helps make the alternative spring break opportunities available to students who might otherwise find the cost of the trips to be prohibitive. CED and UCM offer financial awards that are given based on financial need and to students who meet qualifications.
During a trip to the nation’s capital March 23 to March 29, 2019, Kent State students were able to explore social justice issues, including systematic causes of homelessness, poverty and racism. The group of students worked with nonprofit organizations and government entities to discuss and learn about all of these issues.
Mallory Woods, freshman translation major, said she chose the DC trip because she wanted to learn more about poverty and policy, do volunteer work and become a more educated voter and experience the less “touristy” side of the city.
“We volunteered at several soup kitchens, like Thrive DC and DC Central Kitchen,” Ms. Woods said. “We also went to A Wider Circle in Bethesda, and we learned from locals about gentrification and displacement on many occasions.”
Ms. Woods said the group also participated in a poverty simulation and advocated for higher minimum wages and different tax policies at the capital.
Aside from the volunteer work, the group was able to explore and visit museums and neighborhoods near the city. Ms. Woods said they drove around in the early mornings and gave coffee and breakfast to people experiencing homelessness.
New York City
Erick Desantiago, sophomore visual communication design major, attended the New York City trip from March 23 to March 30, 2019. Mr. Desantiago and the rest of the group worked with the LGBTQ community as well as those affected by HIV and AIDS.
This was Mr. Desantiago’s first alternative spring break and he became aware of the trip through his previous internship with Kent State’s LGBTQ Student Center.
“The reason I signed up for this trip was because I wanted to learn more about an issue in the LGBTQ community that I was not aware about,” Mr. Desantiago said.
Mr. Desantiago said that the group stayed in a church in the upper west side of Manhattan and worked closely with Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a nonprofit service organization which works to end the AIDS epidemic.
He said that although the experience with GMHC was “emotionally heavy,” he was able to connect with clients and other volunteers. The group learned more about issues related to HIV and AIDS, as well as the LGBTQ community as a whole.
“Before this trip, I didn't ask enough questions or think hard about my values and issues in society,” Mr. Desantiago said. “Now, I know that in order for these issues to be addressed, questions must be asked, knowledge must be sought and important conversations must happen —even if it makes you or someone (else) uncomfortable.”
Aierken Subiner, a graduate student in higher education administration and student affairs, traveled to New Orleans from March 23 to March 29, 2019. Ms. Subiner and the rest of the group worked with SBP, a nonprofit organization formally known as the St. Bernard Project, which does long-term disaster recovery work, assisting in Hurricane Katrina relief.
Ms. Subiner said she signed up for this trip because she has a drive to serve others in different communities, and she wanted to make friends along the way. The group rebuilt houses and worked onsite from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.
Aside from their volunteer work, the students were able to explore the surrounding areas and take part in an African dance class.
“It was just an authentic, and culturally enriching experience I will never forget,” Ms. Subiner said.
For students like Alexander Garcia Jr., senior business management major, this alternative spring break trip was a first. Mr. Garcia traveled to the Dominican Republic with a group of friends.
“We did various things in relation to clean water education, and (we) built filters to distribute to a specified area,” Mr. Garcia said. “We also traveled around to see historical sights and interacted with the community.”
Mr. Garcia said that although he felt unprepared when it came to the language barrier, he thoroughly enjoyed his experience in the Dominican Republic.
A group of students traveled a short distance from Kent to Youngstown March 24 to March 27, 2019. The group stayed with the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown and did meaningful work in the surrounding areas.
According to Amanda Woodyard, director of Community Engaged Learning (CEL), the students assisted the Sisters with the “various efforts of their ministries including an HIV/AIDS outreach ministry, an English tutoring program for immigrant women, a housing program for disadvantaged women and children and engaging with older populations through the Silver Sneakers program.”
Students partnered with SBP to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief. This trip took place from March 23 to March 29, 2019.
The Chicago trip gave students the opportunity to work with diverse communities and contribute to youth education and empowerment. Kent State students helped Chicago youth enhance their safety and success, all while working closely with Boxing Out Negativity, a nonprofit after-school program focused on at-risk youth, and Chicago Public Schools.
The trip took place from March 23 to March 28, 2019.
Kermit, West Virginia
On this trip, students were able to do environmental work while learning about the impact that coal mining and extraction industries have on the Appalachian region. Students focused primarily on fossil fuels and environmental efficiency during their time in Kermit.
The trip took place from March 25 to March 30, 2019.
To read more about CEL, visit www.kent.edu/community.
For more on the alternative spring break trips, visit https://www.kent.edu/community/alternative-spring-break.