During spring break, several students experienced personal growth through Alternative Spring Break. By giving time and energy, students gained new insight into multiple social issues afflicting the inner-cities.
Students from various trips shared stories concerning HIV/AIDS, homelesseness and domestic violence.
Looking at the children surrounding her, Rosalyn Kumar, senior international studies and psychology major, realized the many challenges inner-city youth battle in this nation. She describes it as an almost surreal, movie-like scene.
“They are facing so many things,” Kumar said. “Even their junior highs have metal detectors in them.”
Kumar was one of eight SMU students and two faculty advisers who participated in the ASB program in Philadelphia. Students spent the week working with HIV and AIDS patients and inner-city youth at an after-school program.
Kumar explained that the program allowed her to learn so much about social issues occurring inmetropolitan areas nationwide.
“You think you know, but you have no idea,” Kumar said. That became the theme for her group’s experience.
Through Metropolitan AIDS Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA), the students made, packaged and delivered food to HIV and AIDS patients living in clinics, hospitals and homes.
“I had no idea how strict some of their diets were,” first-year Mandy Velaquez said. “We actually made the food. We got to see every little thing they have to worry about in their diets.”
Velaquez was one of the students who also delivered the food. She said that by working with MANNA, she was able to see a large part of Philadelphia and help patients.
Everyday, many people volunteered at the organization. First-year Anna Miller found her experience with MANNA to be interesting and educational.
“Working with MANNA was really eye opening, both the disease and the effects,” Miller said.
Interacting with patients gave students a first-hand experience they were able to share with the youth at the after-school program.
City Year is an after-school program for inner-city youth in Philadelphia. SMU students worked with City Year’s Young Heroes program. Young Heroes focuses on teaching youth about social issues and achievement in school.
“They are surrounded by drugs, violence and gangs,” Kumar said. “For them, higher education and college doesn’t even seem like an option.”
Kumar said that the after-school program tries to make these children realize that college is within their grasp. Besides volunteers, Young Heroes also employs older youth from the area to help mentor the children.
“It’s amazing to see 18-year-olds, young people, who are really trying to influence even younger kids,” Kumar said.
During the week’s work at City Year, students focused on educating children about drug and alcohol abuse. Instead of installing an anti-drug or “just say no” program, students took a unique approach to the problem.
Most children in the program come from families where drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent, Kumar explained. If taught an anti-drug campaign, volunteers believe children would look at their family members who do abuse negatively.
Instead, the program asks children to describe how drugs and alcohol have affected them and their families.
While the children were in school, volunteers developed plans for the next week’s program which would focus on HIV and AIDS. The program would concentrate on educating children about sexually transmitted diseases and ways of preventing and protecting against them.
Every night the group reflected on events of the day. At one night’s reflection, a youth the students had worked with during the day asked if he could participate.
“College was never a big thing – no one in my family ever went,” Kumar said the boy shared. “But by looking at your group, I want to go to college. I don’t want to just go to college, but I want to do community service like you guys are.”
Kumar said that was the best thing to actually see that their time had affected even just one person.
Sophomore Marietta Synodis said that before she went to Cincinnati for Alternative Spring Break, she was fairly ignorant about the issue of homelessness. While she was in Cincinnati, she was able to work with three different non-profit organizations that deal primarily with the indigent.
One of the organizations Synodis worked for was the Drop Inn Center. The Drop Inn Center is a homeless shelter that served as the group’s main contact center for the other two non-profit organizations.
ReSTOC, an agency that acquires and creates low-income housing in what was abandoned buildings, and the Peaslee Center, an after-school day care center, were the other organizations that the group serviced .
Synodis and other students met with the Cincinnati City Council, where homelessness was the issue. She said the group learned about the process of gentrification.
Gentrification is the process of improving land values in an area so the overall property value of the land increases. It also attracts more middle and upper incomes to the area.
“The people who used to live in the renovated property end up on the street,” Synodis said of the displaced people who are moved out of rental property when owners choose to improve the property.
The group lived in a low income housing area where they “heard fights break out all the time,” Synodis said.
“I was actually afraid. That made me realize things about life that I hadn’t before,” Synodis said. “It caused some stress in the group, but it also helped us bond together.”
Synodis added that one of her most memorable experiences was meeting a man that had been sexually abused as a child, lost his job and was trying to get back on his feet.
“I never thought of homeless people as intelligent, well-read people,” Synodis said. “This experience changed all of that.”
She said she was impressed by the passion of the people the group was working with in the inner city.
“I was moved by the people who dedicated their lives to living in such a raw environment,” Synodis said.
She said that her spring break was “more of a service-learning project” rather than a strict community service project. Synodis said she was pleased with the learning experience though. She said she was able to look at the issue of homelessness from both sides, since she was able to witness the sides during her alternative spring break experience.
Sarah Zorger, a sohpomore English and German double major, got to experience the issue of abused women and children while she was working on a Native American reservation in Shiprock, N.M.
Zorger said ASB allowed students to realize a different side of life than the one they are accustomed to experiencing.
Zorger, along with several other students, piled into a van and drove 17 hours to Shiprock to volunteer at a domestic abuse shelter on a Navajo reservation.
The shelter, the Shiprock Home for Women and Children, helps women and children who come from abusive homes .
Zorger and the other students got a chance to participate in traditional Navajo customs, such as dancing and a powwow.
“It was really exciting to be included in something like this,” Zorger said.
One day, the students went to a high school to talk the students on college life. Zorger said that she thought it would be helpful to the Native American students, since most of them had not been off the reservation before.
The students in the program were also able to attend a women’s group therapy session. Zorger said she felt the session had the most impact on her.
“The group therapy session was probably the most moving part of the trip,” Zorger said.
Zorger also said that it would have been too difficult to pick her favorite part of the trip. She also said that although the trip was tiring at points, she would definitely encourage others to attend an Alternative Spring Break program.
“One of my friends said it best; we went to serve them,” Zorger said, “but they ended up s