Ten Buffalo State students celebrated the holiday season by volunteering in Detroit through the alternative break program, which is coordinated by the Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC).
"It went really well," said Aurora Schunk, the VSLC associate who accompanied the students. Osayonmwonbor Rachel Algbedo, a senior majoring in forensic chemistry and a member of the alternative break student leadership team, coordinated the trip with Schunk.
In June, Schunk and Algbedo traveled to Detroit for a conference on quality alternative break programs, through which they discovered Cass Community Social Services (Cass).
Both women liked the idea of visiting Detroit because its similarities to Buffalo. "They’re both rust-belt cities with money problems and a decline in manufacturing jobs," said Schunk.
"Cass was a good fit for us because it provided meals and a place to stay, plus the opportunity to do different kinds of volunteer work," said Algbedo.
The group slept in a transitional housing facility run by Cass and took part in different activities each day. By the end of their stay, they had painted walls in a housing complex, served meals, and worked with developmentally disabled adults.
"Cass is also committed to environmental sustainability and job creation," said Schunk. “They have a workshop for making mud mats, and we worked there, side by side with people who are homeless, learning how to do it and helping to fill the Christmas orders."
The mats are made from tires—so far, 30,000 of them—scavenged from the streets and abandoned properties of Detroit. "We went on a tire hunt with two of the workers," said Schunk. The students had a chance to hear people’s stories. "One man told us that he felt like he won the lottery because his son had graduated from high school," she said.
Every evening, the group reflected on the day’s activities. "Rachel led the conversation," said Schunk. "She asked the students to think about what a community is, and what it needs and offers. The students talked about their own needs and skills. We talked about the high points and low points of the day, sharing perspectives and trying to understand the situation of Detroit as a whole—causes, solutions, gray areas. It was interesting to hear different people’s perspectives." Two students who are majoring in urban planning added additional insights to the discussion.
Schunk said that, through the alternative break, students came to believe that it’s important to show compassion and understanding to everyone in their lives, because things can happen in anyone’s life to make things get bumpy. "You need to look beyond face value and dig deeper before you judge someone," said Schunk. "I think they really got that."
Information sessions about this semester's Alternative Spring Break will be held Tuesday, February 4, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. or Wednesday, February 12, from noon to 1:00 p.m. Both sessions will take place in Bacon Hall 204.
Pictured top (left to right): Scott Thompson, Teresa Olverd, Mariah Haddad, Kevin Clemente, Collin Schreiner, Emily Sampey, Tori Rifanburg, Sara Suranyi, Rachel Algbedo, and Daniel Romero