“This feels like camp,” said Rebecca Adams ‘21 as we selected the bunk beds that would be our resting places for the next four nights.
She was right. It did feel like camp. But it was also very much unlike camp.
Alternative Break 2019 was many things. It was learning from the community. It was serving meals, pulling weeds, teaching civics and cleaning lockers. In many ways, it was like camp. It was also in a category of its own. Let me zoom out and explain.
In thinking about community engagement, I often consider my personal ethical responsibility. I believe that serving others is not just a kind thing to do, but a moral imperative. I believe that serving others is the concept of social justice put into action.
Consider this as an example of community engagement. If you travel to another community, a few hundred miles from your own, and you paint a picket fence around a community garden, you have no reason to paint it carefully. Just get the job done quickly! You’ll never see it again. You have no reason to do it well. It’s not in your community.
Alternative Break was born with the intention of infusing ethical responsibility into service. We serve in our own community, because we take responsibility for what happens in our neighborhood. If the fence around the community garden is in our own neighborhood, imagine how much more care we take in painting it! We give it multiple coats of paint, because it’s in our neighborhood. We also weed whack around the fenceposts, and pick up garbage around the garden. We point to the fence and say, “I did that.” We are proud of the work we did. Its beautification affects us. It affects our neighbors.
Alternative Break was like camp, in that it was a community. We brought 10 students together, most of whom did not know each other. We all shared sleeping quarters, a living space and multiple meals per day. We did team-building. We did a murder mystery party. We set community guidelines. We played lots of euchre — I’m from Michigan, so I play lots of euchre.
Like a camp, it was educational. We started each day with an article related to that day’s theme: food justice, immigration or community development. Each day, we discussed that article, in context of the theme. We brought in community leaders to discuss the theme. At the end of the day, we reflected on the theme.
Also, like a camp we served alongside our community. We gardened in the London Ferrill Community Garden. We taught civics to a citizenship class. We cleaned classrooms at the Lexington Universal Academy. We sorted donations at The Nest Center for Women, Children and Families. We served a meal to people experiencing homelessness at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church.
So we painted these proverbial fences in our own neighborhood. They may not be fences that we ourselves see on our daily commute, but we know they are just a few blocks away. We care about their preservation, because they affect us and our neighbors.
Alternative Break 2019 was made possible through the partnerships of VisitLEX and Kentucky Campus Compact.
About the author: Tevin Monroe, community engagement support specialist, is a co-coordinator of Alternative Break 2019. He, along with Margaux Crider, garden outreach coordinator, are the two AmeriCorps VISTAs serving at Transylvania University. They co-coordinated the Alternative Break 2019 program.