The Upper Iowa University Alternative Spring Break crew takes a moment for a group photo outside their designated Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston site.
FAYETTE, Iowa (March 22, 2013) – A dozen Upper Iowa University students and faculty have returned home from their Alternative Spring Break (ASB) in Boston, Mass., where they helped build a new home for a family and volunteered in helping hundreds of terminally ill people. The UIU group says the ASB experience touched and changed their own lives as well.
Trip leader Cody Jones, UIU's assistant director of residence life and civic engagement, selected Boston as the destination of this year's domestic Alternative Spring Break after attending a workshop in the nation's 10th-largest metropolitan area last summer. Jones said it was the city's atmosphere that first gave him an idea to select it as the 2013 service-learning site. "While I was there, I did research on Habitat for Humanity and at a local soup kitchen. I was thrilled with the volunteer options that would be available to our Upper Iowa students," Jones said.
Jones said Boston's rich history and legacy was another trigger for selecting the ASB project. "I wanted to make sure that not only would we be able to have a significant positive impact on the lives of many through our volunteer efforts, but also provide a trip that would be educational," he said. "I knew that connecting with the nation's history would provide valuable conversations about the civic-minded acts occurring during the founding of America, and how those acts are remembered now. Ultimately, any trip comes down to the participants, and we were lucky enough to have a great group!"
Another connection Jones wanted UIU students to make was that even though Fayette, Iowa, and Boston, Mass., are very different in terms of size and overall pace of life, both communities face the same obstacles – homelessness, hunger and the struggle of disadvantaged individuals.
The UIU group began the trip with a visit to Boston University to see the Boston Terrier Men's Hockey Team in action. The group also toured the Freedom Trail, which included stops at the Boston Common, State House, Park Street Church, King's Chapel and King's Chapel Burying Ground where Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin are buried, as well as a stop at Harvard University, among others.
The group then worked on a home with Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston, a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to building simple low-cost homes for families in need.
"Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity was my favorite part of the trip because it was so easy to see the good we were doing and the difference we were making," said UIU sophomore Sarah Gonner from Manchester, Iowa. "I also gained new carpentry skills while making a stair case."
"Another great favorite for me was watching each group member grow in some way and the interaction within the group because we all came from different backgrounds. We all had to step up and put ourselves out there and be open with the group," Gonner added.
Senior psychology major Abner Avila from Belize City, Belize, said that working with Habitat for Humanity was a great privilege. "What I found beneficial, was that lower middle class people sometimes just need a home so that they are able to stand on their feet. That little piece of hope that I contributed to, I am very proud of."
The UIU group also volunteered at Community Servings, a nonprofit organization that prepares and delivers 7,500 lunches and dinners each week to the homes of almost 800 individuals and families who are homebound with an acute life-threatening illness.
Alex Massman, a December 2013 international business UIU graduate from Ossian, Iowa, found volunteering at the kitchen the most rewarding activity in Boston. "As a business student, and after working in a Hospice kitchen during high school, I am very interested in how this type of operation works," she said. "Cody told the staff at Community Servings this, and I got a tour of everything – the offices, the loading docks, coolers, dry storage area, kitchens, and even the area where Community Servings continues to give back by offering 12-week food service industry courses. The facilities, while quite small, were extremely well-run. Each person had a unique story to share about how Community Servings had an impact on his or her life."
While Massman reveled in the intricate workings of the kitchen, criminology/psychology freshman Robert Mardones, from Miranda de Ebro, Spain, found the post at Community Servings a challenging one. "This was kind of a hard job," he said. "We had to watch how we managed the food because we were preparing it for people who have compromised immune systems due to being infected with HIV or AIDS. If we coughed or cut ourselves while preparing or packaging the meals, the food would have to be thrown away."
Overall, the trip was an experience that the UIU group will not soon forget. During their last reflection, prior to heading back to Upper Iowa, all 10 student members expressed interest in continuing their volunteer efforts – this time in Fayette at the local Methodist church supper.
"From 12 individuals from different walks of life to calling ourselves a family in six days - I'm the luckiest person ever to have the privilege to work alongside these students. It was inspiring to watch them embrace this trip and each other as they pushed their boundaries and grew as individuals. The transformation was amazing," said Jones.
Others participating in the trip were Matthew Flesch of Bryant, Iowa; Nikki Boggs of De Soto, Wis.; Matin Abdul Alim of Selangor, Malaysia; Joanne Balk of West Union, Iowa; Hannah Myers of Lisbon, Iowa; and Lorena Castaneda of Guatemala City, Guatemala.
To see photos from the Boston alternative spring break trip log on to http://www.flickr.com/photos/upperiowauniversity/.
Upper Iowa University's Alternative Spring Break is committed to encouraging volunteerism by students. The program places teams of college students in communities to engage in positive social action and education. The goals can range from increasing cultural awareness, to bringing academic learning to life, or to creating a life-long service ethic.
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to some 6,200 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and independent study. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.