Alternative Spring Break (ASB) at VCU is a unique way for students to spend spring break. For one week, more than 100 VCU students volunteer their time to engage in communities away from Richmond. Through service and hands-on learning, ASB at VCU participants completed approximately 5,000 community service hours combined across the 11 sites of the 2017 trips. Site locations varied from as near as neighboring states to as far as a neighboring country; this year’s sites included: Kissimmee, Fla., Atlanta, Ga., Savannah, Ga., New Orleans, La., Middlebrook, Miss., Black Mountain, N.C., New York City, N.Y., Philadelphia, Pa., Providence, R.I., Memphis, Tenn. and Midland, Ontario, Canada.
Students are divided into groups with two student site leaders and a VCU staff member at each location. Participants contribute through hard work in communities that have issues such as urban poverty, racism, hunger, inadequate housing and environmental damage. Site locations benefit from having much needed work completed, while students have the opportunity to experience different communities and gain perspective.
A Student’s Experience
Sarah Mekonnen, a sophomore studying Supply Chain Management and Analytics, is a marketing assistant for University Student Commons and Activities who had the opportunity to travel to Middlebrook, Miss. with ASB at VCU this spring break. Here, in her words, is her experience:
“I am sure everyone who has been on an ASB trip has said this, but the experience is a life-changing one. Myself and 10 other VCU volunteers climbed into a van and drove 16 hours to Missouri as strangers and came back as a unified group with a special bond. Our trip was at Johnson’s Shut-In, which is part of Missouri State Parks, and was sponsored by the American Hiking Society. Shut-ins are formed when rushing water is “shut-in” by natural barriers of volcanic rock. This leads to rocky and hilly regions as well as waterfalls which intrigue visitors who come by the thousands. We were informed by Park employees that around 5,000 visitors come to enjoy the beauty of the Park throughout the summer. We worked alongside the Park professionals daily to complete tasks such as cleaning lodges and other facilities on site, painting doors and maintaining trails. A majority of the time volunteering was spent lopping branches, dirt work, rewiring roots and hanging tags on trees. We spent seven hours volunteering daily – each day, we were able to make a small, but vital, impact on preserving the park and the landscape.
After a long day of work, we had some free time. Some days we continued to hike to catch the sunset, other days we stayed in and played card games. Every night, we reflected on the day and bonded over our personal stories. We all made an effort to get to know one another and now, having returned home, we still keep in touch and send goofy snapchats about inside jokes we made during our trip. The bond we made with each other is unbreakable and, because we all came with an open heart and a willingness to serve, we were able to form trusting relationships with new people. In this way, the trip has made a lasting impact. I learned that service doesn’t stop when the job is done – it continues as I share my experience, in the hope of encouraging others to participate in future ASB service trips.”
Additional ASB at VCU Testimonials
Experiences such as Sarah’s are not unusual for ASB at VCU participants, as these volunteers explain:
“My initial expectation for this ASB trip was working hands-on with nature in our designated location. However, I felt fairly discouraged because I worried we would never get to meet the residents of the community we would be serving. To my surprise, my ASB group was lucky enough to work side by side with some of Missouri State Parks most valuable and hospitable employees. We were given a new job every day that ranged from cleaning bathrooms to lopping trees to painting doors to building bridges. All the while, the Missouri State Park employees filled us in on all there is to know about the Park and we shared more than our fair share of jokes and laughter. It was not until our reflection after the first night that I realized any service, big or small, makes an impact. As we are making our way back home Virginia, I can say I have formed relationships with my group members over the past week I never would have had if it was not for participating in ASB and at the same time I was fortunate enough to work with kind, knowledgeable, funny and helpful members of a small-town Missouri community.”
– Savannah Chaffin, ASB at VCU volunteer and sophomore International Studies major
“Well, I really enjoyed my ASB experience in New York last year. The impact that I made volunteering there hit it home for me and made me want to come back to volunteer the year after. Not only did I want to come back to volunteer, I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone and be the one that fostered new friendships in my own participants. I enjoyed the idea of doing those things while giving back to ASB in general for the priceless memories they have given me. Those factors primarily were what made me want to become a site leader for this year and it was definitely the right decision.”
– Adriel Delacruz, ASB at VCU site leader and junior Exercise Science major
How can you get involved?
Alternative Spring Break at VCU trips occur annually during VCU’s spring break. Find out more about ASB at VCU on https://rampages.us/asbatvcu/ – research trip sites from this year, read site leader profiles or contact current ASB at VCU members to become involved in fundraising events and information sessions throughout the year. Applications for ASB at VCU 2018 will be available in October 2017. Follow @ASB_VCU on Twitter and @asbatvcu on Instagram and Facebook for frequent updates.