It wasn’t exactly a vacation at the beach, but a group of University of Michigan-Flint students had a life-enriching experience this year when they participated in the school’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program. As part of an expansion of the program, some students stayed the week at Carriage Town Ministries, one of Flint’s homeless shelters, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Program Coordinator Gary Ashley says the Alternative Spring Break program enables students to learn about community issues such as homelessness, poverty, hunger, violence, environmental issues and complex social and cultural issues.
My City Magazine caught up with some students working to renovate a home at Carriage Town Ministries. A number of them participated in the new ASB Immersion Program, which allowed them to stay at CTM for four full days and nights. Melissa Svarc, a junior at U of M-Flint, was busy hammering away and not afraid to get her hands dirty. She and the other students were hard at work tearing out insulation, cleaning and pulling out old flooring and nails in preparation for new drywall. The experience, Melissa says, will remain with her for the rest of her life. “It really opened my eyes to the homeless condition and the need we have right here in Flint,” she said. Her experience included eating a meal at the shelter, attending a church service and interacting with the homeless women at Liberty House, in addition to long hours of hard work. Melissa said in addition to seeing the need, this experience opened her eyes to just how many caring people there are in the community. “There’s so much good in Flint,” she said fervently.
“It’s been great to see the impact volunteers can make!” exclaimed Dezhane Jackson-Finch, another hard-working ASB participant. “I didn’t even know Carriage Town Ministries existed and I don’t live that far away,” she said. “It’s uplifting to see people doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.” Dezhane said she didn’t realize there were so many homeless people in Flint. She particularly enjoyed interacting with the Liberty House residents. And, her giving won’t stop after ASB. “I want to come back and help finish this house,” she smiled. “We built a new little family, working here for a week.” The house the students worked on is directly across the street from Carriage Town Ministries, and upon completion, will be home for needy women and teens.
Other U of M students also participated in community service at various sites throughout the week, including Beecher Community Schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, Flint River Farm, Habitat for Humanity, King’s Karate, My Brother’s Keeper, North End Soup Kitchen, Salem Housing, Shelter of Flint, and Whaley Children’s Center. My City Magazine met up with students working on renovating a home on York Avenue with a crew from Habitat for Humanity. Maia Assaf, a senior, and three other students worked there the entire week, clearing everything out of the house, cleaning windows, removing light switches, sweeping and mopping floors, installing new drywall and painting. Leslie Voiles, Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Coordinator, enjoyed working with the ASB students. “We’re so thankful for them!” she exclaimed. “They worked hard and never complained. We’re so grateful that they gave their time and effort to help us this week.” The house on York will help a family in the area live a more fulfilling life, but it isn’t a handout. “It’s a hand up,” Leslie said, explaining that the new owners are required to invest 250 hours of ‘sweat equity,’ into the home and pay for it with an interest-free mortgage.
Maia was the student team leader, and this is the third year she has participated in the ASB program. “I’m committed to my community,” she said. “It’s a great experience, and I go home after working hard all day thinking to myself, Wow! I’ve done something that helped make a difference today.”
Spring Break 2014, while not a respite from work, was a life-changing event for the students who realized their ability to contribute, as well as for the people they reached with their service.
PHOTOS BY TRACI TURNER