Students take away new perspectives during a week of service
More than two dozen students participated in Alternative Spring Break and Solar Spring Break programs at home and across the country.
Many of the students who pitched in during this year’s Alternative Spring Break and Solar Spring Break programs are no strangers to giving back. But several students said that with schedules packed full of classes, side jobs, and family obligations, it’s often hard to find time to regularly volunteer. The solid week of service not only felt like a much-needed chance to lend a hand. Many said it helped renew their motivation for doing so year round. Here’s a look at what UM-Dearborn students accomplished at sites in Cleveland, San Diego and right here on campus.
UM-Dearborn’s Opportunity Scholars take the first part of their program’s name to heart.
“Our mindset is basically that if you’re given an opportunity to a make a difference, you take it,” said sophomore Jalen Rose. You certainly saw that spirit on display during the recent Alternative Spring Break trip to Cleveland, where Rose and a group of his fellow OpScholars powered through a packed itinerary of service with seven different community organizations in just six days.
Both Rose and his fellow Cleveland site leader, sophomore Karina Nava, said one of the most meaningful experiences came at the front end of the week. The Monday trip into a rapidly changing Cleveland neighborhood left the team with an up-close look at the complexities of gentrification—and a new lense on how that’s impacting Detroit.
“If we think about Detroit, we want it to grow, and for that you need new people and businesses to come in,” Nava said. “But you also have to be careful with home pricing and the opportunities that are available for the people who have been here forever. They are the people who have created, over time, the culture of the city. So you can’t just relocate everyone, or you’ll lose that culture. Finding the middle ground is what makes the challenge so difficult.”
Later in the week, students pitched in packing lunches at a local food pantry, lent a hand with Habitat for Humanity and helped out at a Cleveland book bank. But it was a visit to a community center dedicated to helping immigrants and refugees that left the biggest mark on freshman Amanda Saleh.
“They had so many kinds of programs, from helping out single mothers to teaching people English,” Saleh said. “You see how hard it is for someone to leave their home and become an American citizen. It’s not as easy as some people think it is.”
Students from University of Michigan have traveled to San Diego to do solar installations in lower-income communities for the past five spring breaks. But 2018 was a year of milestones for their partnership with the nonprofit GRID Alternatives and the “Solar Spring Break” program.
For starters, it was the first year that UM-Dearborn students made the trip alongside their Ann Arbor counterparts. In fact, Alexis Thompson and Christian Cannon, both juniors in UM-Dearborn’s mechanical engineering department, served as team leaders for the trip—overseeing everything from fundraising to personally cooking meals for their team of 25 volunteers at the end of their long work days.
Thompson said they initially set a goal of raising $10,000 to support a single solar installation in their target service area—a La Jolla tribal community northeast of San Diego. In the end, the group blew through that target, raising more than $25,000—a record number for a U-M Solar Spring Break team. That allowed them to complete three solar arrays in less than a week.
“The cultural aspect was also pretty incredible,” she said. “We had a lot of conversations, and members of the community talked about how hard it was for their students to get into universities, or about the increase in crime and abuse rates. And those are some of the very same issues facing households in Detroit. So I was able to make connections with people from a totally different background in a totally different part of the country.”
Cannon said the group already is planning its next renewable energy-focused service trips, including a return trip to the La Jolla reservation next year and a project in Tijuana. The trip to Mexico will mark yet another milestone: It will make the U-M team the first Solar Spring Break group to take their volunteerism outside the U.S.
Students who were staying closer to home for the break didn’t miss out on the week of giving back. A third team of about a dozen students participated in three days of hands-on activities on campus.
On the first day, that included making blankets for area homeless shelters, which gave graduate student Priyal Sheth a rare chance to connect with students from other parts of the university.
“I’m in engineering, so I only get to work with other engineers,” Sheth said. “But on our team we had a biology major, somebody from the College of Business, and two people who just transferred from other schools. One of us was from South Africa, one from El Salvador, another from South America, another from the Middle East—and I’m from India. You’re sitting there for a few hours, too, so it’s a chance to hear a lot of different perspectives. By the end of the day, you feel like old friends.”
Later in the week, students wrote cards to kids in local hospitals and organized UM-Dearborn’s Student Food Pantry.
Master’s student Raquel Estrada, who was participating in ASB for the second time, said the turnout for the local events left her energized.
“I thought there weren’t going to be that many people showing up because it was spring break,” she said. “But for every activity, there were at least five or six people coming in and out per hour. So it shows you we can make a difference anywhere, from campus or outside. Either way, it’s really powerful.”