This past spring break, I had the best opportunity to lead a group of nine wonderful young ladies to Cincinnati, Ohio, with my co-leader, Kristen. On this trip, our group worked with the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition to combat hunger and homelessness in a community called Over-the-Rhine.
Our group departed in two mini-vans on that Saturday morning of March 15, drove 15 hours with many stops along the way and reached Cincinnati by 10 p.m. that evening. Exhausted and ready for sleep, we unpacked and settled into our new home of the week—an apartment right above Over-the-Rhine Community Kitchen. Our week of service, education and reflection began the following day with a group shopping trip to Kroger’s grocery store, and an exciting walk downtown to explore what Cincinnati had to offer. Following that, our group had the opportunity to hear from an individual who had experienced homelessness for many years. We listened and discussed the repercussions of homelessness with this individual, and he even broke down some of our own stereotypes as well. This was the beginning of the week of emotions and eye-opening experiences we were all eager to have.
Throughout the week, our group worked alongside the coalition on various service projects. We had opportunities to work in the community food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and homes. We found this form of service the most rewarding, because we were working alongside other community members and volunteers who were nothing but friendly and excited to have a group of New Englanders come help in their area.
Sharing stories of their own experiences and some laughs along the way, our group and community members had become familiar friends towards the end. It was a bittersweet farewell by Friday.
Of course, as mentioned, we could not have performed the fulfilling service we did without the opportunity to educate ourselves on the community we were working in. The coalition designs its program to balance both aspects for ‘Alternative breakers,’ which was a delightful component we all greatly appreciated.
From walking social justice tours to an activity on food stamps, our group learned of the challenges and opportunities Over-the-Rhine community has. One impacting educational activity was selling the Streetvibes newspaper, a paper that is printed biweekly that advocates for the homeless community and promotes justice. With this activity, we were given newspapers to sell. Along with it came frustrations, happiness and a new perspective.
This offered a time for deep thinking moments and discussions when we would come together to wrap up our day during nightly reflections — always starting with our “rose, bud and thorn” of the day and ending with team acknowledgments these reflections offered time to discuss what we had learned, and how we can take this new knowledge and bring it back to our own Keene community.
As the week came to a close faster than any of us could imagine, our group processed all we had come to learn during the week, and how far we had grown.
From sharing a love of Graeter’s Ice Cream, penguins and Disney charades, to our new found friendship with our favorite Streetvibes seller, food pantry supervisor and coalition education coordinator, our alternative break in Cincinnati was one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences any of us could have asked for.
I encourage any individual interested in service and promoting justice in communities to apply for an alternative break.
Not only will you have the chance to travel and gain new friendships; you will come back with broader knowledge on important issues our nation faces today such as environmental justice, poverty, health care, disaster response and hunger and homelessness.
As a student you will grow and carry all the new skills and opportunities gained on these trips even after graduation from Keene State College.
Katie Wynot can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org