MARCH 2017—While many students, faculty, and staff returned to campus from a well-deserved week off after this year’s Spring Break, those who participated in the Alternative Spring Break program returned from a journey that was less-than-relaxing but more-than-fulfilling.
Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a faith-based week of service that takes place during the College’s spring break each March. The goal of the program is to educate students on social justice while serving the community.
The ASB groups work to help remedy various social injustices ranging from hunger and food insecurity to homelessness and extreme poverty to environmental concerns and rebuilding after a natural disaster. While the trip is comprised of a multitude of projects and tasks, the main components of the trip itself can be simplified to daily service and nightly reflection and prayer.
Each year, students accepted to ASB are given the opportunity to complete the week-long service trip in either Phoenix, AZ, New Orleans, LA, or right here in the City of Boston. This year, the three ASB groups dispatched to their respective locations: 19 students and four staff leaders to Phoenix, 12 students and two staff leaders to New Orleans, and 11 students and two staff leaders to the Notre Dame Campus in Boston.
Emmanuel College ASB program has been serving in Phoenix for 15 years. This year, the 23-member ASB group worked with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Andre House, two Arizona-based non-profit organizations dedicated to helping the impoverished while encouraging others to serve alongside them. The Phoenix ASB group’s primary focus was to help combat hunger and homelessness in the area. During their time in Phoenix, the ASB group harvested fresh produce on St. Vincent de Paul’s farm on the Watkins Campus to feed those in need.
Ash Uss, a sociology major from the Class of 2017 who has been traveling to Phoenix annually since she started at Emmanuel, said that one of the most memorable experiences from her week in Arizona this year was the day her team worked on the Urban Farm.
“When I first went on ASB my freshman year, this farm was still being converted from a parking lot to a farm,” Uss said.
Seeing the farm’s progress four years later was “astounding,” Uss said.
“It was really profound to be standing in what once was an old parking lot and has evolved into a sustainable and healthy source of delicious food,” Uss said. “It made me realize that anything really is possible, and that we need to be more creative and passionate about the ways we address poverty.”
Uss said that in the three hours she spent at the Urban Farm this year, her team harvested around 800 pounds of fresh produce to feed the homeless and hungry in Phoenix.
The group of 14 who traveled to New Orleans partnered with the Saint Bernard Project (SBP), a non-profit organization established to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Emmanuel’s ASB program has sent groups to New Orleans on a regular basis since 2007, with a focus on reconstructing homes and providing assistance to those affected by natural disaster. In addition to serving with SBP, the New Orleans ASB group also served at the Villalobos Dog Rescue Center.
Those from the Boston ASB group serving right here in the College’s home city were certainly busy, too.
Beginning on Monday, March 6, the Boston ASB group began serving to aid food justice and access in the area. Starting at the Greater Boston Food Bank, the ASB group learned about how food is distributed to and from the food bank, enabling them to see the system on a larger level with their own eyes. On the very same day, they assisted in preparing and serving dinner at Rosie’s Place, the first women’s shelter in the U.S.
On Tuesday, March 7, the Boston ASB group divided into two separate teams: one that served in Dorchester at Daily Table, a not-for-profit retail store that helps ensure wholesome, affordable grocery options, while the other team served at St. Francis House, the largest day shelter in Massachusetts, located on Boylston St. Then, on Thursday, March 9, the two teams switched locations and completed another day of service.
The Boston ASB group also served in the Urban Food Project, where they worked and planted in the greenhouse on Emmanuel’s main campus. The group partnered with third-graders from Mission Grammar who assisted in the planting process and will help transplant the seedlings to the Norte Dame campus greenhouse in May.
On Wednesday, March 8, the Boston ASB group visited Three Sisters Garden in Ipswich, a community farm that seeks to increase the food supply on a local level. Here they learned and worked on a farm in a suburban/rural location, which allowed students to see both the similarities and differences between rural and urban garden projects. Overall, this allowed students to see that issues of food access and instability are not limited to location.
According to Deirdre Bradley Turner, the Director of Community Service and Service Learning at Emmanuel and a member of this year’s Boston team, “There are food issues and food insecurities all throughout our region, and there’s not a particular face or name or look for somebody who deals with not knowing where their next meal may be coming from.”
THE OVERALL IMPACT OF ASB
Bradley-Turner, who has directed the program for 16 years, stresses the importance of the evening reflection and prayer component of Alternative Spring Break.
“While we’re out there doing for others and serving for others, it’s also about that transformation for ourselves,” said Bradley-Turner. “We’re called out to serve the poor, to serve the homeless, to serve the hungry, but also ask the question ‘why?'”
Though all ASB groups from Boston to New Orleans to Phoenix served day-in and day-out, their nights were filled with intellectual and deep, emotional conversation—the type of discussion that transcends education.
“We always say that our hope is that it’s a transformative experience for our students,” Bradley-Turner said.
For those who participated in the Alternative Spring Break, one thing is for certain: the mission doesn’t end at the end of the week.
In fact, Bradley-Turner said that some student leaders have already been in contact with the sites in Phoenix to discuss the possibility of going back and serving for a year.
“Our students really do have this transformative experience,” she said, “and they want to go back and dedicate more of their life on a longer term.”
Bradley-Turner also said that several alumni are currently serving in New Orleans with AmeriCorps or another year-long service program.
All in all, this year’s Alternative Spring Break was more than successful; it was life-changing. Bradley-Turner has high hopes that many of her students will take their experiences with them and make service a part of their lives after leaving Emmanuel.