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Redbirds reflect on poverty and privilege during spring break service

Students painting a playground

Editor’s note: Opportunities to participate in civic engagement activities are a core part of student life at Illinois State. Alternative Spring Break has been one way outreach is accomplished, with groups of students traveling to volunteer in various parts of the country during the March break from classes. This year teams left prior to travel restrictions enforced as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Itineraries were changed and trips cut short in order to get students back to campus safely. These stories are shared as an uplifting reminder of how Redbirds collaborate and care for each other.

“I have always believed that knowledge is power,” said Sierra Hobson, a senior majoring in English studies. “I also believe that all children have the potential to be successful. However, it is important to recognize the privilege that education holds and how society does not distribute access to resources equally.”

Hobson was one of two student leaders on a recent Alternative Spring Break trip to International Children’s Outreach (ICO) in Miami. The group spent the week doing service and reflecting on the impact education has on children, especially those living in poverty.

A group of 13 students and one staff member traveled to Miami. They completed 448 hours of service during their week at Little Masters preschool in partnership with ICO.

“We focused on STEM activities with the younger students,” said Sergio Carteno, a senior animal science major who was a student leader on the trip. “Some of those activities included making slime and play dough, and building structures using spaghetti sticks and marshmallows. When the school day was over, we helped the afterschool students with homework. We also worked on beautification and gardening projects at the school.”

According to Carteno, much of the experience was spent connecting with the children at Little Masters and the afterschool program. “I think we made an impact in the lives of the older students just by listening to them talk about what their hopes are for the future.”

Hobson agreed.

“We valued any interaction we had, whether it was helping with homework, playing, or simply talking to students about their personal lives,” she said.

The Redbirds were in Miami when it was announced that Spring Break would be extended and classes held online due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). The group had to forgo a trip to the Everglades, but traveled safely home.

While Hobson acknowledges that the uncertainty of the situation was stressful, and that it was an emotional time for her as a senior reflecting on her final few weeks at Illinois State, she focuses on the personal educational opportunity.

“This experience has made me check my privilege several times,” Hobson said. “I have the opportunity to use a laptop and complete my assignments using the internet. Little Masters has no access to computers within their school. The majority of the students we worked with all week will not have the ability to continue their education online during this challenging time.”