Students serve in Alaska, Washington and Oregon

Elizabeth Stoeger, Staff Writer

Three groups of students participated in alternative spring break, a service-based trip where students engage in helping communities in need of support.

This year, groups traveled to Tacoma, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and Thorne Bay, Alaska.

Student volunteers who spent the week in Tacoma, Washington, worked with Habitat for Humanity as well as serving dinner at the Tacoma Rescue Mission.

Kelly Ackerman, ’18, was the leader of the ASB trip to Tacoma, Washington, which focused on poverty and homelessness in the area.

Ackerman enjoyed serving in the soup kitchen the most, “It was really cool to see the instant joy on people’s faces when we were able to give them dinner.”

Tacoma was chosen because “Habitat for Humanity was there and it is a great organization to work with,” said the Director of ASB, Sara Gomez.

Amy Trinh, ’18, said, “My favorite experience was being able to interact with other students who also wanted to make a difference in the community and being able to meet the new homeowner and their family and see how happy and fortunate they were to have a place where they can call home.”

Funding can also be tricky, “We want every single trip to be as accessible as possible for all students,” said Gomez.

The Sustainability Grant Council generously supported the trips so students who wanted to go were able, no matter the cost.

The program in Portland, Oregon, was centered on youth empowerment and volunteers worked at three different YMCA centers in Portland.

Each year the program coordinators look at the themes and decide which cities are the best fits.

Portland was selected because it was an opportunity to “get to know a community close to home,” said Gomez.

Leader of the trip Deizhanna Kaya-Abad, ’17, found the youth empowerment aspect to be very gratifying, “Being able to empower youth was something really important to me . . . even if it was indirect service like cleaning a sand box.”

Along with cleaning sand boxes, the group in Portland did activities like picking up trash, kitchen clean up, and setting up events at the YMCA. Their big project for the week was taking down a tool shed.

Volunteers ate lunch with the children every day, assisted in classrooms, and one group repainted chairs for the classrooms.

Julia Silver, ’17, said learning to be patient and flexible was the most difficult lesson of the week, “Getting people to trust us because we’re new comers and volunteers” was a challenge but “by the end of the week, people did trust us.”

Showing the children of the community that there were people willing to help also motivated Kaya-Abad, “There are kids that don’t realize they have the potential to do many things in life.”

Students who volunteered in Thorne Bay, Alaska, learned about sustainability and conservation by building a chicken coop for the local school.

This program involved volunteer work, hearing presentations from people within the community, and regular reflections.

Gomez was the assistant leader for this program and said it was difficult to, “keep yourself motivated for manual labor” after completing the intellectual components, like the reflections, and the long hours.

Each program gave students 30 hours of service a week. Gomez said, “It’s not just about building a chicken coop, we learn about community and the future impacts” of each project.

The group worked in coordination with the Forest Service. “Continuing our partnership with the Forest Service” was part of the reason Thorne Bay was chosen as a location, according to Gomez.

The coop will be used to house about 18 hens and as “a learning tool for students and also as a more sustainable way to get eggs and meat for the cafeteria,” said participant Rachel Conway, ’17.

In addition to the coop, students dug an outhouse hole, cleaned up a cabin, picked up trash, moved fallen trees, and helped with the upkeep of nature trails like Gravelly Creek and the Tongass National Forest, which is the largest rainforest in North America.

“We got to hear a traditional welcome song from one of the members and we were ‘read’ several totem poles (told about the stories and traditions they represented),” Conway said.