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Lunchtime in the UMC is always a hub for student activities either taking place or being advertised.
I usually find a moment to glance at the student organizations set up behind tables near the Alferd Packer Grill. I will, at least, grab a piece of candy set enticingly on the table’s edge.
Last fall, one such group successfully lured me in and as a result my spring break was a life-altering experience founded in volunteering, education and social justice.
Alternative Breaks is a program run by CU’s Volunteer Resource Center that sends students into communities across the country as well as internationally. This spring, student-led teams traveled to New York, California, Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Ohio working with causes ranging from animal rights and environmental conservation to nutrition and urban poverty.
After a simple application and interview process, groups are assigned. Meetings are held every other week so that group members can get to know one another and learn about the mission of the trip.
I was selected to work with the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless in Cincinnati, Ohio. The itinerary for the trip was filled with advocate speakers, interactive activities and volunteer work with those in need. Our group was housed in the Over-the-Rhine urban historic district known for a large collection of Italianate architecture.
Cincinnati is one of America’s poorest cities and continues to experience income loss and unaffordable housing as revitalization projects in OTR conflict with mass displacement of the working class.
Four days of service included work with preschoolers in a community center, serving hundreds of meals in drop-in kitchens and yard clean-up for low-income housing programs. Speakers were local advocates, homeless community members and non-profit leaders in programs such as urban gardening and low-wage workers’ rights.
Hands-on activities included cooking for a family on a food stamp budget, navigating the city for resources for the homeless and creating a mock drop-in shelter.
Learning about gentrification, working-class struggles and human rights in an environment full of these issues added to the experience and provided a perspective unique to an Alternative Break. My excitement to travel, photograph and volunteer was exceeded by gaining life-long friendships, an education in social justice and learning the joy of sharing a smile with the people who need it most.
For more information on Alternative Breaks visit their website .
Contact CU Independent Photographer Amy Moore-Shipley at Amy.firstname.lastname@example.org.