Digging In

Students volunteer in food bank during a service trip to Detroit and Flint, Mich.

Students volunteer in a food bank during a spring-break service trip to Detroit and Flint, Mich.

Spring-break service trips bring insight, context, meaning

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

For many college students, the words “spring break” conjure up sandy beaches and lazy days, a time to shore up before the end-of-year flurry begins. But for the 60 Dickinsonians who took part in the recent spring-break service trips, it’s a time to dig in.

Fifty-two students and eight administrators recently took on that challenge, working with partner organizations to help people in need in four communities: Detroit; New Orleans; Americus, Georgia; and Belize. Along the way, they learned about group dynamics and team-building, picked up some technical skills and learned to better understand the needs and culture of a different population.

The groups were led by trained student-leaders, in conjunction with volunteer administrators. Prior to the trips, the student-leaders helped assemble the volunteer teams and drew up the volunteering schedule, along with nonprofits in the communities they would serve. Once there, they were the first points of contact for the peer volunteers, helping to ensure that everyone had necessary training and tools and leading end-of-day discussion groups. They also organized downtime social outings and team-building events, like a hike or a trip to the local Dairy Queen.

Students who spent spring break in Belize took part in a waterside yoga class, a team-strengthening activity during their down time from volunteer work.

Yoga in Belize. When not volunteering, students from across campus strengthened new friendships through team-building activities.

Asir Saeed ‘16 (computer science) and Carolyn Goode ’18 (women’s & gender studies) worked with two administrators to lead a group of 10 student volunteers in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, where they worked at a food bank and an elementary school. The trip included a workshop on Flint’s water crisis, along with related environmental issues, led by an activist group, Voices for Earth Justice.

“It was very powerful to hear individual stories and to learn about the real difficulties facing the people of Detroit and Flint, and while it frustrated me to see how the system failed an entire city, it motivated me to take part in activism,” said Saeed.

While in Flint, the group also presented a $1,000 check to a local nonprofit that provided food and clean water to Flint residents in need. The funds were raised by Dickinson for Flint, a group organized by Helena Jeudin ’17 (biology) to help support a local nonprofit organization that works to help homeless and impoverished families in the city. “It was a beautiful moment,” said Goode, who marked her second Dickinson service trip to Flint this spring. “The whole experience was life-changing.”

georgia service trip


It’s also an ongoing process, stressed Matt Berman ’18 (earth sciences, educational studies), who helped lead the trip to Americus, Georgia. “During the week we saw some pretty powerful sights, and we came together to discuss them at the end of each day,” said Berman, who shepherded fellow students through discussions about the issues facing many in the communities they served, including rates of homelessness and the American prison system, and focused not on what the students could accomplish in their limited time on site, but on the lessons learned and perspectives gained.

“These trips are a chance for students to learn about the issues affecting our society and gain knowledge necessary to supplement their education and learn how to eventually act to solve these problems,” he added.

georgia service trip

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Published March 29, 2016