Spring Break 7.8 Miles Away

Goucher Students Participate in an Alternative Spring Break in Baltimore

On Wednesday afternoon, with the March sun streaming through the roof of an empty West Baltimore rowhouse ravaged by a fire and age, Amanda Griffith methodically stacked mortar and brick. “It will feel good to finish it,” said the Goucher senior, looking up an unfinished wall. “But we need a taller ladder.”

Griffith was one of 13 students volunteering with Sandtown Habitat for Humanity as part of the Goucher Builds alternative spring break, a collaboration between Goucher Hillel and Goucher’s offices of Religious and Spiritual Life, Community-Based Learning, and Multicultural Student Services.

Goucher students have been participating in alternative spring breaks for years, often traveling to other countries and states for service. But Yona Gorelick, a trip leader with Goucher Hillel, said it eventually became clear to organizers that they didn’t have to rely on the draw of an “exotic” destination —students were interested in serving local need. “I’m pretty thrilled about it,” Gorelick said. “The students are engaging so thoughtfully and deeply; it’s really quite impressive.”

Students have found great value in being immersed in the city. “Even living so close to Baltimore I didn’t know much about it,” Allison Susser ’14 said. “And these issues we’re confronting, they’re so important.”

Griffith said at the beginning of the trip the group discussed the differences between social justice, community service, and service learning and how they wanted to relate these issues to what they were doing. “It’s more about equality in general,” she said. “Social justice is more about a change in the system so everybody can have an equal say.”

Lindsay Johnson, a trip leader from community-based learning, said the loose theme grounding the trip was homelessness/housing, and subsequent layers of issues evolved, from environmental to civil rights. Students worked on Sandtown Habitat for Humanity homes most days, but they also visited a transitional home for people leaving prison and a woman’s shelter, and they did various city tours and made connections with local nonprofits. There was so much to coverthat some activities had to be pushed back as a follow-up to spring break.

Gorelick said another plus was running into Goucher alumnae/i as the group engaged with different organizations through the city. “It’s great making these connections,” she said.

Caroline Daniels ’16 said she has been introduced to organizations and forged relationships that may be useful if she wants to volunteer in the future. And Susser, a psychology major, found that interaction with recently incarcerated individuals piqued her curiosity in how to help on a professional level. “I’ve been thinking about this line of work for a while, “she said.

Lionel Tchechuent Pelap ’16, a native of Camaroon who has been in Maryland three years, said he thought the trip was a good way to learn about Baltimore, to practice speaking English, and even to experience new food. He hasn’t been disappointed. “I’ve learned a lot,” he said, coating white paint on a bedroom wall at one of the volunteer sites.

The trip was largely financed through the organization Repair the World in partnership with Hillel, though some spring breakers donated a small fee to help cover costs.

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