Rather than go home or travel somewhere warm for spring break, students volunteered alongside faculty and staff for five days in Hood’s “Know Your Neighbors” Alternative Spring Break program.
Each day took the eight students to different locations in and around Frederick where they worked and learned the missions of the organizations.
The Rev. Beth O’Malley, Dean of the Chapel, lead the group for the week. Different professors and staff members spent time with the students at the organizations as well.
On Monday, the group started the week by working with the Rock Creek Conservancy in Rockville, Md. Members of Biology Professor April Boulton’s class joined for the day.
With instruction from members of the conservancy, the students tackled the invasive English Ivy in a section of trees behind a neighborhood.
English Ivy strangles and kills trees by growing into their bark and robbing the nutrients. When the trees die, there are less roots to hold together the soil and erosion pollutes nearby waterways, said ASB participant freshman Michelle Shedd, environmental science and policy major.
Invasive species become a problem because when introduced, “they have no natural predators in the new found area,” Shedd said.
To kill the ivy, the students cut out sections near the ground and around shoulder height. Then they pulled out the ivy’s roots around the tree to make it harder for the ivy to grow back. When the ivy dies, the tree can breathe easier and continue a healthy lifecycle.
The group saved more than 100 trees from the ivy in one day of work.
After cutting the ivy, the group split into two. Half of the team went into the neighborhood to leave door hangers instructing the residents of how to remove the English Ivy in their backyards. Other students picked up trash in the area.
Working with the Rock Creek Conservancy “sent a message of how we need to focus on important issues like invasive species,” said sophomore José Galarza. Members of the group said that for the rest of the week they noticed for the first time everywhere that English Ivy was taking over trees.
Still sore from pulling ivy, the group went to New Windsor, Md., Tuesday to visit the Brethren Service Center and SERRV International.
Run by the Church of the Brethren, the service center provides both domestic and international disaster relief. The students repackaged donated kits to prepare boxes for shipment for the next area in need. Types of kits included health kits with towels and soap, school kits in drawstring bags and kits for those with newborn babies.
Across the street from the service center lies the current location for SERRV, a fair trade organization that provides artists in third world countries with the resources to practice their craft. The artists are paid a portion upfront to buy more materials and to support their families, and receive more after their products are sold in the United States.
The main work for volunteers is to prepare the products for travel around the country after they are imported. The group inspected a shipment of handmade elephant-shaped boxes from Indonesia, and repackaged them to be ready for orders.
The members learned in a talk about the history of the organization that SERRV started as a program of the Church of the Brethren.
It was different for the students to help with an international problem while working in a local area.
“I didn’t feel as much of a connection at SERRV,” Galarza admitted. It did not have as much of an impact on him as dealing with issues closer to home, he said.
Those who worked with the service center felt more connected to the service while packaging the kits because they could be sent anywhere, or stay to aid people in Maryland.
Wednesday served as a rest day for the volunteers at The Samaritan Women in Baltimore.
Due to the ground conditions from the previous snow, the students were not able to create a garden as planned. Instead, they learned about human trafficking and how The Samaritan Women helps female victims.
Many of the students knew little about human trafficking before visiting The Samaritan Women.
Sophomore Shanayah Braithwaite, returning ASB participant, admitted she did not realize human trafficking happened in the United States. “I thought it was more in third world countries,” she said.
The students learned that Atlanta is the leading city for human trafficking in the United States, and is ranked number four in the world. In general, women are trafficked for sexual exploitation and men for manual labor, according to the presentation.
Human trafficking is a major problem in Baltimore as well, and can be as close to home as Frederick. The employee urged the students to start living with more observant eyes and report any suspicions they may have of someone being forced to work against their will or without the required compensation.
Thursday presented the most local issue when the students worked at the Frederick Community Action Agency (FCAA) downtown and helped the hungry in Frederick for the day.
Half of the group worked in the food bank and organized donations; the other half worked in the soup kitchen and prepared supper to distribute. The group reunited in the evening to serve the meal together to the community. The soup kitchen works with no questions asked, and anyone is welcome to eat.
The FCAA was a very memorable day for the volunteers. Some shared that working in Frederick made them feel there was more of a purpose to their work. It was nice to see the results of the work they did, Braithwaite said.
Braithwaite shared that her family had to go once without food, but it was different to see how people experience hunger every day.
“A lot of people help my family, and it’s nice to return that,” Braithwaite said. She added, “We get to see what we take for granted,” such as food and clothing.
Galarza said he would go back to FCAA on his own to work in the soup kitchen because it is close. The day embodied the message of “know your neighbors.”
“I thought it [FCAA] connected us the most directly with our community. I liked being able to see and connect with the people I was helping,” Shedd said.
The students stayed close on Friday to conclude the week in Thurmont, Md., at the Frederick County 4H Therapeutic Riding Program. They cleaned tack and equipment at the center before meeting and grooming a few horses. After grooming, they practiced leading the horses as volunteers do in the program.
The riding program is open to people with disabilities including physical, mental and learning. Riding horses helps the students of all ages with balance and focus, the students learned.
Some had never heard of therapeutic riding before working at the center, including Galarza, he said. The organizations of the week were new to many who volunteered. Rock Creek Conservancy and The Samaritan Women were added new for this year’s program.
The ASB allowed the students to do something more with their spring break than they would most likely have done otherwise at home. There is room for many other people to join in the future.
“I think that more people don’t do it because spring break is often seen as a time of self-recovery, to think about oneself and get away from work and school. Most college students aren’t looking for what could be seen as work in a time where many need a much deserved break,” Shedd said.
If a student does not want to spend the entire week volunteering, they can participate for as much as they can. Braithwaite, Galarza and Shedd shared they wish to stay next year as well to volunteer.
“It’s college, and it’s really the only chance to do something like that,” Galarza stated.