All 80 students who went on one of Bowdoin’s seven Alternative Spring Break trips this March gathered recently for dinner in Daggett Lounge to share their stories and reflections.
Bowdoin’s ASB program, which began with a trip to Peru in 2002, offers students an opportunity to spend spring break engaging in service projects across the country and abroad. Students interested in leading a group propose a trip a year of ahead of time and spend the following fall preparing for and learning about the area they plan to visit.
This spring break, groups traveled to rural Mississippi, Maine and Florida, as well as urban centers in Atlanta, New York City, Philadelphia and Guatemala City. They worked on a range of social issues, including homelessness, education and refugee relocation.
Luke Mondello, ’10, assistant director of the McKeen Center and former ASB leader, said the trips provide an opportunity for students both to volunteer and to engage with new communities. “Before you can serve humbly and without exploitation, you have to make an honest effort to understand the situation of others and evaluate your own experience and privileges,” he said. “If this self-exploration is paired with meeting amazing people (both fellow Bowdoin students and community members of your trip’s destination), it’s likely to stick with you for a long time.”
2013 Alternative Spring Break Trips
New Perspectives, New Voices, New York
New York, N.Y.
Jessica Caron and Emma James, both Class of 2013, led a trip to New York City, where students participated in a number of education-related service activities. Every morning, the group volunteered at a public elementary school in the Bronx, where they worked one-on-one with children from first through fifth grade. In the afternoons, the students met with a number of Bowdoin alumni who work in the education field. The group also visited the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Harlem charter school founded by Geoffrey Canada ‘74, where they learned about the school and its mission from teachers and administrators.
A Helping Hand in Philadelphia
The Philadelphia trip focused on the city’s challenges of homelessness and hunger. In one week, the group managed to volunteer with seven organizations, including two schools, a homeless shelter, a food bank, and a number of charities that support homeless families. Leaders Courtney Chuang ’15 and Diana Lee ’14 said that at the end of the week, the students came away with a better understanding of the difficulties people face as they try to transition out of homelessness, as well as the need for communities to improve their homeless population’s access to shelter, social services, food and education.
Spring to Safe Passage in Guatemala City
Guatemala City, Gautemala
Seniors Sandra Martinez and Tasha Sandoval led the ASB program’s only international service trip. Students on the Guatemala team volunteered with Safe Passage, an organization that provides education and support to families living in the garbage landfill in Guatemala City. The group spent the days teaching English and working on art projects with Guatemalan children, whose enthusiasm and aspirations inspired each member of the group. Additionally, a trip to the nearby tourist town of Antigua brought the students face to face with the stark contrast between their own relatively luxurious lives and the lives of the children they had worked with in the dump. Martinez said the group left Guatemala with a new passion for helping reform education and eliminating poverty in struggling areas.
Making Mississippi Home
Led by Marcus Karim ’14 and Laura Keller ’15, this group headed to Pontotoc to volunteer with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. Students helped put the finishing touches on a home by completing a number of projects, including installing flooring and lighting as well as power-washing. Each night a different church in the community hosted the group for dinner, an experience the students found particularly meaningful. Karim said that by interacting with members of the local community, the group gained a better understanding of the region’s heritage and culture, as well as of the problems and challenges it faces.
Revitalize Atlanta: Finding a New Home in America
This group focused largely on helping recently resettled refugees from around the world who have relocated to Atlanta because of its inexpensive housing and growing job market. Led by seniors Jessie Turner and Melody Hahm, the students taught English to both children and senior citizens in their homes, as well as tutored teenage girls at a local school. After working with refugees from a vast range of countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Bhutan, Thailand and Iraq, the students were struck by how different each group of refugees’ experiences had been, both in their former homes and in the Untied States.
Harvesting Communities in Immokalee, Florida
Leovanny Fernandez ’14 and Macy Galvan ’13 led the trip to Immokalee, a low-income, agricultural town a few miles from Naples. The group worked on a number of service projects to provide needy families with food, housing and clothing. Students painted classrooms and vacant apartments, delivered food to homes throughout the community, and assisted with early childhood education at a local school. The group also organized a clothing donation drive and volunteered at a thrift shop operated by a local charity that provides services to families new to the area.
Lessons from the Passamaquoddy
Pleasant Point, Maine
Led by Erin St. Peter and Micah Ludwig, both Class of ’13, this trip focused on addressing the needs of a community not too far from Bowdoin’s campus. The group spent the week on the Passamaquoddy Reservation in Pleasant Point, where they assisted teachers at an elementary and middle school in the morning, and volunteered at a local recreation center for children in the afternoon. Ludwig said that students formed instant bonds with the children they met. “It was a great opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with the students,” he noted. And the best part? “Many of the students on our trip are still keeping in touch with the kids.”