Wintersession 2014: CWS Launches "Alternative Breaks" Service Trips

January 31, 2014

Wellesley Students Volunteer on Service Projects in New York and New Orleans

three students present poster about their volunteer work

This Wintersession, two groups of Wellesley students volunteered to work in New York and New Orleans, through programs run by the Center for Work and Service (CWS).

Building on a long history of empowering Wellesley women to do community service in the United States and around the globe, the CWS officially launched the Alternative Breaks program this year. Alternative Breaks offer students four opportunities to participate in community service in different parts of the country over Wintersession and Spring Break. During the program, 10 participants and two student site leaders partner with nonprofit organizations to serve a community and explore social, cultural, and political challenges. Participants prepare for their trips by working in teams during the weeks leading up to the break; after returning to campus, the students continue to meet and reflect on their experiences. In the photo above, New York City volunteers display a poster summarizing how the organization they worked with pieces together a support staff and community for clients and how the model could be applied globally.

New York City

Martha Khalayi Aywa ’17, Sarah Hitchner ’15, Katie Howe ’14, Sarah Jane Huber ’14, Refilwe Kotane ’17, Eileen Macomber ’17, Alison Nikyar ’15, Divya Satishchandra ’17, Taylor Stewart ’15, Shreya Thatai ’17, and Liz Olson ’16 (site leader) traveled to the Big Apple to serve individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS, through partnering with two community organizations, God’s Love We Deliver and Harlem United.

God’s Love We Deliver focuses on delivering nutritious and high-quality meals to those struggling with the illness. The Wellesley team worked in meal preparation, portioning chicken casseroles, dicing vegetables, and learning about the dietary restrictions that the GLWD chefs work hard to accommodate. The organization cooks and delivers 4,600 meals each weekday free of charge to clients, employing 15 vans and more drivers who knock on 600 doors a day to deliver meals to Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and New Jersey. Each Wellesley student helped to deliver meals to at least 100 clients, both in the vans and on foot in Lower Manhattan.

On their last day, the Wellesley students traveled to Harlem United, an HIV/AIDS health-care organization that offers adult day programs, housing, and support and prevention services. They met with organization leadership and learned about the evolution of HIV/AIDS treatment over the years. Katie Wagner ’09, a current medical student, met up with the students to offer an additional perspective on healthcare.

“As a student interested in the health professions, public health, and the nonprofit sector, this trip allowed me to better understand how all of that can be tied together,” said site leader Liz Olson ’16, who appreciated learning more about the history of HIV/AIDS, witnessing the curative powers of food, and gaining insight into the world of nonprofits. “Participating in this trip reminded me why I started working with the Alternative Breaks program in the first place: to assist those in need, to better understand social justice, and to produce positive change in communities.”

Additionally, she said, the trip “reminded me that my future career goals and my passion for service are not separate entities. I look forward to growing my commitment to service, and this semester I have returned to my studies at Wellesley with a new sense of urgency and a greater desire to use my education to help people in need.”

New Orleans

Over the years since Hurricane Katrina, the CWS has sent many student groups to volunteer in New Orleans. This year, Pauline Day ’16, Mona Elminyawi ’14, Frances Grace Howland ’16, Alyssa Jang ’15, Ellie Vorhaben ’17, Alisha Pegan ’16, Isabelle Rosenthal ’16, Idalmis Vaquero ’16, Lauren Westendorf ’15, Jacqueline Zheng ’17, and site leaders Patrice Caldwell ’15 and Rebecca Freeman-Slade ’14 traveled to The Crescent City to work with Habitat for Humanity (HFH) for the week.

The group worked for four days with HFH in the upper 9th ward. The students spent the majority of their time putting up walls on a house, and then sheathing the exterior walls with plywood. They stayed at the Hands On Volunteer Bunkhouse, cooking and living together, and taking the opportunity to visit the legendary French Quarter of the city. On the Saturday before returning, the Wellesley students volunteered at Grow Dat, an organic farm in City Park which offers local high-schoolers employment and a chance to learn about growing healthy food.

“It was a great week,” said Howland.


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