BGSU students use spring break to provide public good

Spring breakers immerse themselves in culture of service, creating positive change

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By Hannah Cubberley

Bowling Green State University junior Will Robinson returned from his third Bowling Green Alternative Breaks (bGAB) trip that took place over spring break with a new outlook on service and experiential learning.

“The bGAB program is a great way for students to learn. Period,” he said.

bGAB is a student-led alternative breaks program that empowers participants to become active global citizens by collaborating with communities experiencing social injustices. By completing meaningful direct service during academic breaks, bGAB provides students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a culture of service and allows students to create positive change.

Over spring break, four groups of alternative breakers journeyed from BGSU to communities in Maryland, Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia to learn about social issues ranging from sustainability and environment to affordable housing.

“Our trip focused on issues uncovered by home repair agencies in economically diverse regions of the United States,” Robinson said. “Our group worked with Renewing Homes of Greater Augusta, a non-profit operating in Augusta County, Virginia.”

The agency provides critical home repairs that ensure safe, warm, dry and accessible living conditions for low-income individuals who lack the funds and the ability to perform them on their own. While working alongside the community partner, the group was able to finish five days of work in three days which allowed some bGAB participants to also work on a near-condemned house that was in severe need of repair.

Another group of BGSU students worked on Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm, a teaching and learning farmstead in Boone, North Carolina. The farm is owned and operated by a family of four who practice an intentional lifestyle of living off the land and promote environmental education by hosting workshops about sustainability and permaculture.

Madi Stump, a junior studying environmental policy and analysis, was excited to return to the farm during spring break this year as a site leader.

“I had an amazing experience as a participant on the farm in 2018 and I wanted to share that experience with others,” Stump said. “I felt as if I had a strong connection to the land and an understanding of the place that would allow me to help others grow and develop throughout the week.”

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The service provided by Stump and her group of bGAB participants greatly benefited the overall operation of the farm. Over the course of the week, they helped with a variety of tasks, including setting posts for outdoor buildings and expanding a tool shed, that would have been challenging for the family of four to complete on their own.

Reflection is a key component of all bGAB trips. Each night of the trip, after a long day of completing service and working with the community partner, participants take time to reflect about the accomplishments of the day and discuss how their service relates to the overall social justice issue. Through reflection, participants draw connections between their personal choices and actions and the broader impact of their week of service. While these reflective conversations are meaningful, reflection time is also when the group shares laughs and stories that help foster lasting friendships among participants.

As site-leaders, both Robinson and Stumpagreed that had it not been for the reflection that bGAB encourages, the value of the service experience on their respective trips would have lost some meaning for participants.

“Reflection time was especially important to my participants and allowed them to dive into the social justice issue,” Stump said. “Serving in a community that is so connected to nature was very different than having environmental conversations in Bowling Green. Living off the grid with no service allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the experience and living the farmstead life.”

The two remaining spring break bGAB trips focused on health and urban farming and animal welfare in Chicago, Illinois and Chestertown, Maryland, respectively. In total, the four groups completed 1,592 hours of service.