Casey Schoenborn spent her spring break sitting across from a 9-year-old girl from Somalia who wants more than anything to be a doctor, but knows she must be able to read English.
So Schoenborn and her new friend did flash cards, just the two of them. It’s moments like these that made Schoenborn’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Atlanta last week so special.
“The fact that this girl was getting that kind of attention from me—her face just lit up,” said Schoenborn, a junior human development and family resources major at Illinois State University. “You can ask anyone on the (ASB) trip, and they’d have something similar to share.”
Civic engagement is a core value at Illinois State, and nowhere is that more visible than the University’s Alternative Breaks program. This year, 235 students traveled to five communities across the U.S. for one week to volunteer and then reflect on a social issue tied to their work, such as environmental restoration or affordable housing.
Those students built homes with Habitat for Humanity, replaced culverts, painted picnic tables, assisted with after-school programs, helped develop youth and adult educational curriculum, and removed trash and debris within U.S. waterways and state parks. Each group was focused on its own social issue, working in Memphis, Tennessee; Atlanta; Duffield, Virginia; Little Rock, Arkansas; or Winder, Georgia.
Schoenborn was one of 38 Redbirds on the Atlanta trip, focused on at-risk youth. They spent afternoons working with students at an after-school program, Wings for Kids. Schoenborn’s moment with the 9-year-old came at DeKalb International Student Center, where English learners from 43 countries attend school.
“I absolutely loved it,” Schoenborn said. “It’s already reshaped my views on American culture and what these international kids face. It’s just made me realize how fortunate I really am.”
As a trip leader, Schoenborn arranged the service at Wings for Kids, as well as housing. The tight-knit group of ASB students slept on air mattresses in a church sanctuary.
“We all got really close, really fast,” she said.
Five-hundred miles to the west, Addie Howe was working at the Our House shelter in Little Rock.
Howe and her 35 peers on the trip were focused on homelessness and hunger. Some were playing games with kids at the shelter or helping them do homework. Others were helping older residents polish up their resumes for job interviews. Later they painted sleeping rooms at a Salvation Army.
One of Howe’s favorite parts of the trip was daily reflection with her fellow students—an important part of Illinois State’s ASB trips. (Trips are preceded by training, orientation, and education sessions.)
“We had some really great discussions,” said Howe, a senior double major in psychology and communication sciences and disorders. “It was really nice to see how this trip was impacting their perspective, their opinions. I think being able to discuss those things with them helped me have a deeper understanding of the issue (of homelessness and hunger).”
Alternative Breaks is a student organization supported by Leadership and Community Connections, a unit of the Dean of Students Office.
Interested in going on Alternative Spring Break? ASB takes place each March during spring break. Applications are released each August at Festival ISU and are due in October. There are several other service trips throughout the year, including Alternative Winter Break (AWB) and Summer Break (ASuB).
See more photos and tweets from Illinois State students on their 2016 ASB trips below, via Storify:
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.