Spring break is known as a time to relax and let loose, but for 21 Rochester Institute of Technology students, it was an opportunity to volunteer and develop a culture of community service.
For one week, the students helped impact the lives of at-risk youth and adults across Atlanta as part of the Alternative Spring Break program with RIT’s Leadership Institute and Community Service Center. The group worked with the Medici Project, a Georgia-based program that hosts Alternative Breaks to expose volunteers to the realities of poverty in Atlanta and educate them on what is being done to fight that poverty.
Throughout many different morning and afternoon sessions, the students helped by tutoring at a middle school, making lunches at a homeless shelter and organizing recycled books for a library. The undergraduate and graduate students also attended a workshop on sex trafficking, spoke with individuals who have experienced homelessness and had discussions with people at high-risk for contracting HIV.
“It was a very eye-opening experience because we learned that these issues, even sex trafficking, really do exist right here in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Diaz, fifth-year environmental sustainability, health and safety management major from Hartford, Conn. “It made us think about what we could be doing to help.”
At night, the group would gather to reflect on what they experienced and learned throughout each day. A main goal of the program is to help students gain new perspectives on community service by working in diverse environments and talking with local community leaders.
“I think it also helps students understand the importance of public service and civic engagement,” said Phyllis Walker, assistant director of RIT’s Leadership Institute and Community Service Center and leader of the trip. “Many students learn that they really can make an impact, and when we get back to Rochester I often see them get regularly involved in the community.”
Each year, Walker and the Leadership Center take approximately 20 students on a community service trip. With more than 50 applications for the 2014 trip, acceptance for the program has become competitive. In the past, Alternative Spring Break programs have worked in Rochester, New Orleans, Miami, Appalachia and Texas.
“One of the memorable quotes I heard on the trip was, ‘With more problems come more solutions,’” said Diaz. “We held this idea very near and dear on the trip and hope to apply it to our lives back in Rochester.”