The 72 students who participated in the McKeen Center’s Alternative Spring Break program gathered for a special dinner at Daggett Lounge recently to reflect on their week of service.
Andrew Lardie, associate director at the McKeen Center, opened the dinner by encouraging students to “celebrate the discomfort that individuals and groups can experience as a result of encounters with difference during service trips.” He said a kind of “creative tension” can come from diverse groups and individuals taking the first steps in learning about each other without the presumption of privilege or domination.
Each of the trip leaders shared his or her experiences, highlighting the lows and highs of the trips. Sewheat Asfaha ’16, who went to Atlanta to volunteer with immigrants and refugees, said she was initially bothered by her lack of knowledge in the first few days. “However, I realized that the purpose of this trip was more about connecting with people from very different communities in the moment,” she said.
Since its founding in 2004, the Alternative Spring Break program has allowed students to perform community service all over the U.S. and Guatemala during the first week of March vacation. Student leaders propose, design and run the trips. They are responsible for recruiting participants, planning trip logistics and coordinating with the host site.
This year, five domestic trips and one international trip to Guatemala went out. Before leaving, participants attended mandatory seminars and meetings to explore social issues such as poverty and immigration. Through this process, trip leaders exposed students to the socio-economic backgrounds of their communities.
This year’s trips:
Harvesting Communities in Immokalee, Florida
Students worked with community outreach organizations to explore issues of poverty, social mobility and education within the context of harvesting communities in Immokalee. Leaders: Carl Boisrond ’16 and Matthew Friedland ’15
Students assisted refugees on the path to resettlement, from citizenship to education to job placement. They met individuals from diverse backgrounds and heard stories about what it’s like to leave one’s home and set up a new life someplace else. Leaders: Malik McKnight ’15 and Elina Zhang ’16
Safe Passage to Guatemala
Guatemala City, Guatemala
In collaboration with the nonprofit Safe Passage, this ASB group engaged in educational and creative activities with children and adults living around the main landfill in Guatemala City. They also learned about the site’s environmental issues. Leaders: Tracie Goldsmith ’14 and Georgia Whitaker ’14
Nourishing New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana
Student volunteers explored issues of nutrition and food accessibility in communities still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. They worked in some of New Orleans’ food banks and soup kitchens. Leaders: Kathryn Brady ’14 and Amy Schwietzer ’14
Learning and Living with the Passamaquoddy
Pleasant Point, Maine
The students gained insight into Native American communities in Maine by working in a local elementary school and interacting with community members of the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe. Leaders: Kelsey Freeman ’16 and Sarah Levy ’16
*This trip was fully financed by the President’s Office as part of the Bowdoin-Colby-Bates Wabanaki Collaborative.
Feeding the Mind in Philadelphia
This group explored some of Philadelphia’s food access programs and schools by working with soup kitchens and independent high schools. Leaders: Laura Keller ’15 and Carolyn M. Veilleux ’16