After CEP week, 11 students participated in our program's second year of partnership with Washington D.C.-area non-profits. Through experiences with Food and Friends, DC Central Kitchen, Thrive DC, and Capital Area Food Bank, students learned about the full circle of partnerships between and among organizations in the nation's capital, working each day to end homelessness and hunger.
Through pre-trip orientation meetings and hands-on service projects with Outdoor Homeless Ministry, the Salvation Army's Emergency Family Shelter, and the Matt Urban Hope Center, 15 Buffalo State students learned about the ways in which homelessness is being combatted by a large coalition of non-profit agencies in the city of Buffalo.
Although our program has had several Alternative Break experiences that focused on multiple social issues in Buffalo, this spring, we led our first experience in Niagara Falls, NY, learning about poverty. The group of students spent their time volunteering in the soup kitchen and food pantry at Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier, traveling the city while delivering food and other supplies to community residents with The Magdalene Project, and serving a community dinner with Mission House.
In the midst of the holiday season bustle, students stayed in Buffalo and humbly served the local community. The students spent one of their days as iconic bell ringers with the Salvation Army to help raise money for the services provided to the Buffalo community, including a youth summer camp. Their afternoons were devoted to the Salvation Army's Kid's Club initiative that provides a safe and comforting space to youth living in its emergency family shelter and in the neighborhood surrounding the organization. The students played board games and helped to provide a mentoring relationship with the youth. The team also served with the Food Bank of WNY and sorted food donations during one of the busiest times of the year for the organization.
After the stress of finals, students traveled to Washington D.C. to volunteer with three local community organizations that collaborate to combat issues related to homelessness and food insecurity. At Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), students sorted about 20,000 pounds of donations each day as part of CAFB's detailed food sorting system. Some of those food donations were then utilized by DC Central Kitchen, where our students helped to prepare some of the 5,000 daily meals provided to individuals and non-profit agencies. Finally, at Thrive DC, the students worked alongside the organization to coordinate the daily Breakfast Program which provides a meal for over 150 homeless and low-income individuals, one of which was prepared the day before by our students while at DC Central Kitchen.
For the second year in a row, the Alternative Break program kicked off the school year with a experience focused on veterans' issues. Service projects centered around homelessness and the veteran experience, including crafts with youth and families at the Salvation Army's Emergency Family Shelter and cleaning the USS Little Rock and USS The Sullivans at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. Friday night kicked off the weekend break with a dinner with local veterans from the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy. Students also spent time with Outdoor Homeless Ministries, preparing hygiene kits and meals for homeless men and women, and working with the organization to build relationships.
The Alternative Break program strengthened their partnership with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference through coordination of a second Alternative Summer Break trip to Bear Mountain, NY. This year, a team of eight students worked on rerouting one of the oldest sections of the Appalachian Trail that cuts through the state park. Under the guidance of professional trail builders, the students spent the week cutting away rocks and boulders from the mountainside and reduffing the surface of the new trail. Built with an understanding of soil erosion as a result of the environment and human foot traffic, this section of the trail should last for a century.
During spring break, 10 students traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. On this Alternative Spring Break, participants spent time with Sky Meadows State Park staff assisting in spring tree planting throughout the park. The students tended to trees in the park that had been damaged in storms and cleaned debris. Additionally, the students planted 200 new trees throughout the park over the course of the week. The impact of the week will, in the future, result in cleaner waterways in the park as the trees and roots grow and trap contaminated runoff before it enters the streams.
In honor of Year of the Teacher, the Alternative Break program hosted a spring break experience that would allow future teachers and other Buffalo State students the opportunity to engage in various learning settings within Buffalo’s most diverse neighborhood, the West Side. Students served as volunteer teachers with Journey’s End Refugee Service’s Making A Connection (MAC) program. The MAC program is for 17-21 year-old refugee students who are being phased out of traditional high school settings. As volunteer teachers, the students led a week of enriching experiences for the students about living in a city, including a tour of City Hall and the SUNY Buffalo State campus. In the afternoons, the students worked with 7th and 8th graders at Buffalo Public School #76, Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, on a newspaper project that is facilitated by a service-learning course taught by Dr. Pixita Del Prado Hill. The students worked one-on-one and in small groups to craft articles that depict the attitudes and interests of the middle-school youth.
Upon the completion of CEP week, 10 students headed to Detroit, Michigan, to serve with Cass Community Social Services and to learn about the intersecting dynamics of homelessness, poverty, and economic opportunity. Working with one organization that is contributing to the rebuilding of a small area of the sprawling 139 square miles of the city, the participants had the opportunity to take part in many different activities. Students volunteered their time to prepare and serve hot meals in the Cass Kitchen, assist with shredding confidential documents in the Document Destruction Facility, play bingo and make holiday cards with developmentally disabled adults at the Activity Center, paint the lobby of the women and children's shelter at Mom's Place I, learn how to make mud mats from formerly homeless men with Cass Green Industries, and collect illegally dumped tires to turn into mud mats.
Over the Veterans Day weekend, the program hosted the first Alternative Fall Break program, staying locally in Buffalo. Throughout the course of the weekend, 11 student participants volunteered with four community organizations focused around understanding and tackling veterans’ issues. The group served at St. Vincent de Paul Society, WNY Veterans Housing Coalition, Veterans Day 5K Race, and Buffalo City Mission throughout the day and in the evening the group resided at First United Methodist Church, cooking meals and participating in reflection and community-building activities together.
Once the semester has ended, there is even more time to volunteer! Or at least that is how one group of eight students felt. Traveling by van to an area of the Appalachian Mountains beside the Hudson River, the students volunteered with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference to learn about the impact of humans on hiking trails and what engineering skills it takes to build a trail that will sustain hundreds of visitors each year without its eroding. Four days were spent on the Major Welsh Trail on Bear Mountain and under the guidance of trail educators and builders, our students dug out hundreds of rocks, redirected water run-off, and removed duff (decaying leaves and loose topsoil). The resulting 150 feet of new trail is more sustainable and will be less damaged by erosion and heavy pedestrian traffic in the years to come.
While many students headed home or headed for warmer weather, nine students traveled east to Rochester for a week of community building, serving, and becoming stronger student leaders. A Rochester community member offered free housing to the students in an apartment on the west side of the city. While in Rochester, the students were able to learn about various organizations in the city that assist community members and were able to lend their hand as well. The first day found the students at a women and children's shelter, where they helped to make special improvements throughout the building. The director of the shelter was incredibly thankful for their extra help, due to the organization's modest operating budget. For two days the students volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and worked on the 198 and 199 houses that were being constructed in Rochester. On Friday, the group donated its time at Food Link, a local food bank, labeling and packing canned peaches and pears for Rochester families.
Nearly six months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the east coast, a group of 10 students traveled by bus to Brooklyn to spend the week removing mold from homes that had been impacted by the high water levels. Partnering with New York Cares, a volunteer organization in the city and surrounding boroughs, the students donned hazmat suits, masks, and gloves to tackle the mold in the still recovering communities of Far Rockaway and Breezey Point. For three days, the students geared up and worked in cramped crawl spaces and basements, scrubbing mold. In addition to becoming "mold busters" as they affectionately called themselves, the group also worked on demolishing areas of homes that had been ruined by the flood waters.
To honor the memory and message of Martin Luther King Jr., eight Buffalo State students participated in the Hamburg Food Drive with the Service Collaborative of WNY and the Food Bank of WNY, collecting over 2,000 pounds of canned goods. Students also spent two days with Westside Ministries, hanging drywall, painting, and giving a house on 14th Street some finishing touches and sorted donations at the New to You thrift store. The end of the week found the students on the East Side at Vive La Casa, helping to make spacial improvements in its kitchen, hallways, and other rooms, while interacting with men, women, and children seeking asylum in the United States. In speaking about Alternative Winter Break, site leader James Hall thought the experience had a positive impact and stated, “We had the chance to focus on developing our relationships with one another and with the community we are rebuilding.”
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