Students are committed to change during Alternative Spring Break

March 18, 2019

Working in three different regional locations, participants picked up leadership skills and civic engagement knowledge during the week-long volunteer experience; ASB projects focused on environmentalism, affordable housing and community organizing.

Larissa Dean didn’t need to pack much for her spring break experience. A hard hat and wearable safety equipment — her go-to items of the week — were already waiting for her.

Instead of relaxing at home or taking a tropical trip like some of her friends, Dean grouted basement walls made of stone and refinished wooden doors to make them look new. She painted old walls to make them bright and fresh. The biochemistry junior spent her time away from the classroom working on a different type of solution: one that helps provide affordable housing.

“I chose to go on Alternative Spring Break because I knew it would be more meaningful than a traditional spring break. I didn’t want to go to an attraction or tourist location and then go home,” she said. “ASB immerses you in a community for an entire week. You talk with people, learn about the community and the problems in it. Most importantly, you learn how to help.”

Dean was one of nearly 30 students who volunteered during Alternative Spring Break (ASB), an annual campus-organized tradition where participants travel to communities throughout the region to learn from each other, engage in service and grow as active citizens.

ASB Coordinator Brendan Gallagher said it’s important to give students opportunities to contribute positively to local and global communities. Not only does it help others, it is also an educational experience.

“Engaging in service helps us develop the necessary knowledge, skills and values to make a difference in our communities and beyond,” said Gallagher, civic engagement coordinator in the Office for Student Engagement.

Three different ASB groups, each with a different community engagement goal, were organized this year. The Cleveland-based group, which was hosted by The Scholar Community and received funding from Key Bank, focused on community organizing. The Painesville, Ohio, participants had a project with an environmentalism emphasis. And the Goshen, Ind., trip taught students about affordable housing. This year’s charities were the Cleveland Leadership Center, the Lake Metropark Conservancy in Painesville, and Lacasa — where Dean volunteered — in Goshen.

Dean, the site leader of the Goshen group, said her UM-Dearborn team worked on revitalizing a large home to assist the non-profit in creating affordable, safe and clean spaces for low-income families to rent.

“We helped renovate an old house into four one-bedroom apartments. So, from Monday through Friday, we worked with the contractors on the house,” Dean said. “Although centered around service, ASB is so much more. You learn about the community you are in, new skills and a bit more about yourself.”

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