By MICHAEL FOSSBAKK, Staff Writer
While you huddled under your blankets and binge-watched the new season of House of Cards on Netflix over spring break, there were about 50 University of Michigan–Dearborn students that participated in this year’s Alternative Spring Break, the largest turnout yet, according to co-coordinator of the event Kelli Dowd.
Since 2007, students of UM-Dearborn have been participating in Alternative Spring Break, and since then the number of participants and number of simultaneous trips has grown. 2011 was the first year ABS had more than one trip going – three actually – and from that point on, the number has steadily risen.
This year, there were six different groups that went on six different trips around the country with some going as far as Catalina Island, California, marking the first time a group has flown to their destination, according to site leader Zach Muzzin, while others stayed close to home right here in Michigan. Other locations visited by ABS this year included Washington D.C., Goshen, Indiana, Radford, Virginia., Flint, Michigan, and Detroit.
Each group focused on a different social justice issue by working with various nonprofit organizations around the country. The Washington D.C. group worked with The Steinbruck Center for Urban Studies, tackling the issue of homelessness and the problems that surround it. The group that went to Goshen, Indiana was an all-female group that worked with LaCasa Inc., which works on affordable housing initiatives. Those that stayed in California worked with the Catalina Island Conservancy to learn about the protection and regulation of a healthy environment by removing invasive species and cleaning up debris. Students that visited Radford, Virginia worked with Beans and Rice, an organization whose primary focus is rural poverty and economic development.
While many students traveled outside of state lines, there were some that offered their time to organizations right here in Flint and Detroit. In Flint, the students worked with Urban Poverty and Health Access, spending half of their week working at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and the second half of their week working at the Hamilton Community Health Network, where they helped educate residents of Flint about the Affordable Care Act. The students who volunteered in Detroit worked with various organizations, including Affirmations, Equality Michigan, GLSEN, ACCESS and Ruth Ellis Center, in an effort to promote equality among the LGBT community.
“These sites were all familiar with the program and how it is organized, which helps to create a stronger trip for the students,” Dowd said.
While participants certainly put a lot into the work they did on their trips, they also got a lot of personal fulfillment from it, prompting nothing but excitement for the next time.
“I participate in ASB because it provides me with a sense of gratitude. A sense that I am truly making a difference and leaving this place better than I found it,” co-coordinator Brendan Gallagher said.
Although exact destinations have not been solidified, planning for next year’s ASB has already begun. The organization is urging students interested in becoming coordinators or site leaders for the program to stop by The CIViC, located on the first floor of the University Center.