Alternative fall breaks deepen meaning of service

CincinnatiThe bGAB team addressed food and housing insecurity in Cincinnati.

Service-learning has become a way of life for sophomore Amanda Dortch, a public relations major and political science minor from Detroit. She was one of 35 participants this fall in three Bowling Green Alternative Breaks (bGAB) programs that addressed three separate social issues. She carries that philosophy into her daily life in Bowling Green as well, serving as the undergraduate student representative for the annual United Way and Northwest Ohio Community Shares campaign.

Instead of spending her school breaks relaxing at home, Dortch last spring promoted affordable housing in Goshen, Ind., and this year combatted negativity and hopelessness by serving as a bGAB site leader working with Blight Busters and Cass Community Social Services in Detroit. The team assisted with reclaiming empty lots so they may be used for urban farming, gathering discarded tires and other rubber materials to be turned into useable items like flip flops and door mats by the Cass Green Industries business, which is staffed by formerly homeless people. “It helps people be independent and fend for themselves,” Dortch explained.

This fall bGAB, which operates out of the Office of Service-Learning, expanded to three service-learning projects, adding work with St. Thomas of Canterbury at a soup kitchen and Broadway Youth Lounge, a Saturday night safe space for LGBTQ students in Chicago, and community development with St. Vincent de Paul in the Over the Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati, for a total of 717 hours of service. Next spring there will be four bGAB alternative breaks, plus one run by the Honors Learning Community, said bGAB President Maddi Georgoff, a senior from Millbury majoring in sociology.

“College is for getting out there and making things better,” Dortch said. “I’d like to work on the same project in Detroit next year so we can see what our contribution has done. I’ve gained a passion for it.”

chicagoAt-risk LGBTQ youth were the focus of the Chicago team.

Staying at the Cass Community Social Services Center, of which a part is housing for those in need, the bGAB crew also helped cook and serve lunch to residents and visitors. As a Detroit native, the experience allowed Dortch to see life “on both ends of the spectrum.”

But what is most important, she said, is not the week of service but the year of bringing it back to the community. “This is what separates us — working for the greater good. For me, that’s in both my homes, Detroit and Bowling Green.

“We have a responsibility to meet people where they are. We learned how to talk to people without making assumptions. There are deep-rooted issues people are dealing with.”

The holistic nature of the bGAB projects is a defining characteristic, Georgoff said. “Not just serving in a soup kitchen but looking at the deeper issues to ask why the problems exist and work to solve them.”

Dortch said much of the success of bGAB is attributable to Georgoff, who has been involved since the beginning.

“Maddi is the definition of a servant leader. She has a vision and is really committed to the idea that coming back from your trip is not the end for you, but that we need to look at our own communities to see the needs there. She graduates in May, so we will focus on keeping it alive and continuing to make it better.”

Seeing the organization grow and expand is fulfilling, Georgoff said. “We’re really about active citizenship and servant leadership,” she said. “We’re forming a Detroit Compact with Eastern Michigan and other universities so we can keep this effort going for many years and have clear and measurable goals. We really want to encourage commitment to communities and their advocacy.”