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“A Very Humbling Experience,” Students Reflect On Alternative Spring Break Community Service 

Howard students visited Detroit, Michigan, to service the local community. Photo Courtesy of Jasmin Miller.

For students like sophomore Donya Conley, spring break was not about oceans, palm trees or relaxation. Rather, the TV and film major from California made her return to the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program where she spent a week educating middle schoolers in Chicago.

Conley made an intentional decision to rejoin ASB because “With ASB,” she said, “I knew that going into this experience, I could have an impact.” 

Where some may have felt weary of spending their break in another community, Conley’s 2022 ASB experience taught her that if she could make the smallest impact, “even if it’s one child, one person,” she could make a difference.

Conley was among what ASB coordinator Joseph Dillard said to be 1,142 students in Cramton Auditorium who set off to various locations on March 4 to impact communities around the world, an annual excursion programmed by ASB. 

There were 25 locations overall that Dillard shared, with 15 locations offered domestically, according to The Dig. Some of the locations included Detroit, Chicago, Ghana, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and Baltimore.

According to ASB’s history page, ASB has provided the Howard community with the chance to immerse themselves in underprivileged communities for the last 26 years. The White House recognized ASB’s efforts to give back to the community in 2014 with the distinction of being named to President Barack Obama’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction in 2009.

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As a graduate student, Miller was able to foster connections through her participation in ASB. Photo Courtesy of Jasmin Miller.

Common initiatives included empowering disadvantaged youth through various tools such as educational resources and mental health awareness, providing disaster relief to underserviced areas, addressing food and water insecurity, and more, according to the ASB Instagram page. 

Junior Ayanna Gay visited New Orleans, Louisiana, under the initiative of “youth holistic wellness,” and called her experience “a 10 out of 10.” According to Gay, her group met with a preschool every day and introduced them to the mindfulness practices of intentional breathing and affirmations. Gay’s group also helped to refurbish the local park and nature trail called Sankofa Wetland Park to make it usable for the community.

The theme of giving back and uplifting communities was present on most sites. 

Sociology student Jasmin Miller was among a group of what group leader Devonte King said to be 47 students preparing to depart for Detroit. As a first-year graduate student taking advanced courses, Miller said that she isn’t left with much time to engage in campus activities and foster new connections. She heard about ASB from one of her peers who recommended it and saw it as a special opportunity for campus engagement.

“Our classes are mostly focused on internships and careers and stuff like that,” Miller said. “So I figured it’d be a nice opportunity to get involved on campus at the same time.”

In Detroit, Miller’s group focused on food insecurity and sharing educational resources with local youth and their families. Working closely with the non-profit organization Focus Hope, Miller was awed to find that the non-profit houses over 42,000 seniors in Southeast, Michigan. 

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“It was really impactful to me to know that we were helping that many people during our one week in Detroit,” she said. Originally joining ASB to “get involved and meet new people,” Miller walked away with more than what she asked for. In her words, the opportunity to service a different community while being able to build relationships with her fellow peers on-site was “a very humbling experience.”

Similar to Conley, Miller explained that one of the key things she’s taking from this experience is the knowledge of their impact. “To sacrifice our mid-semester vacation to go and give service to another community, that was deep for me,” she said. 

She continued to explain that the trip also made her more aware of the privileges she had as a student at Howard. “I got this opportunity through my school,” Miller said. “It was very humbling for me to just step away from the glitz and glamor of being at Howard and give back to another community.”

Conley, Miller, and Gay were humbled and inspired by the opportunity to give back during their spring break, while some were even able to create friendships with their peers. 

The New Orleans group also planted small trees and plants throughout the park. Photo Courtesy of Ayanna Gay.

After recognizing that she could have been “in Miami, at the beach, where it’s hot,” Conley found it “so rewarding” to hear the stories of the children she volunteered with. “Being an example for them really just rewarded my spirit because I knew that at their age, I didn’t have that,” she said. 

She went on to explain that she along with other members of her group held a panel for students in K-12 about what to expect from their college experience. 

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Hearing from some children who said they had been told they could never make it into college, Conley found it “inspiring” to be able to give the youth a different perspective.

ASB is coordinated through the Office of the Dean of the Andrew Rankin Chapel. Preparation for the event takes place in the prior fall with collaboration and support from alumni and the Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee of ASB, which is composed of students, ranges from public relations to fundraising, to site coordination and database. For Gay, who is a database manager, witnessing her hard work play out in real-time as everyone participated in ASB made all their efforts worthwhile. 

“After doing all the work that we did and all the planning, seeing all the dedication, it makes it all worth it,” she said. “All the work that we did, it makes it worth it.”

Howard students took on New Orleans to provide wellness tips to the community. Photo Courtesy of Ayanna Gay.

Miller posted a recap of her trip to Detroit on TikTok.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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