Marisa OlsonContact Email:
In early March, a group of University of the Sciences students headed to the Big Apple for a week spent giving back to the community. A far cry from the typical spring break, the students worked with the Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) as part of the University’s annual alternative spring break, Help Hope Humanity. Anita Sharma PharmD’12, the program’s site leader, shares the experiences and emotions of a labor-intensive week dedicated to working in local food banks, soup kitchens, and clothing drives:
Gandhi once said that you must be the change you wish to see in this world. But what is change? The Alternative Spring Break Program is a national movement in which thousands of college students throughout the country trade the “typical Spring Break” week to help create a positive change. Working through direct service, these students truly are active citizens of our world. The Alternative Spring Break program has eight components, including direct service, orientation, education, reorientation, no alcohol or drug policy, training, reflection, and diversity. My fellow peers from Help Hope Humanity strive not only to help serve our own city of Philadelphia, but strive to better educate themselves so that we can properly apply our experience to service the community.
Our spring break trip was to NYC where we worked with The Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) on homelessness and hunger. For one week, we dedicated our efforts to better learn and serve the community, in particular, working in the local food banks, soup kitchens, and clothing drives. Ultimately, our goal as students is to not only create a positive impact now, but to change the world we will live in forever. When we returned back to Philadelphia, we reoriented ourselves with what we had learned by volunteering at Broadway Ministry’s “No Barriers Dinner.” It was such a great opportunity to see how one week truly impacted the lives of my fellow peers. These students now value the community when making life decisions, and are sincerely contributing members of society. So if you leave with one though in your head, let it be this one: How can you be the change you wish to see in this world?
These are the responses of a few participants from the trip when asked to explain the Alternative Spring Break program and Help Hope Humanity:
“On our first work day, seeing people come into the soup kitchen starving and cold made me realize how much help they need too. My best memory from our trip was when we made dinner for a bunch of homeless men and ate with them. We personally got to talk to them and hear their stories. One of the men actually had a friend who lives a few blocks away from where I live. It was shocking to realize that these people were once not homeless. This was a trip that I will never forget.”
KT 2nd year
“The spring break trip was a real eye-opener for me. It helped me get past my stereotypical views of homeless people. I was able to see that they are individuals just like us who are just going through a difficult time. I had some of the best experiences volunteering in the different soup kitchens, churches and clothing banks. It was nice talking with the other volunteers and guests because it gave me the opportunity to see what life is like in other people’s perspectives. The guests and volunteers were really genuine and appreciative, which made the experience even more worthwhile. The first few days of the trip were a little rough due to the weather and being in a new environment. However, as we pushed past these obstacles we were all able to see the big picture and realize that we were truly making a difference in people’s lives. My favorite experience in this trip was cooking dinner for and playing games with the senior guests from the homeless shelter. They were really appreciative and really made us feel like we had made a great difference in their lives. Additionally, it was nice that we had a small group of people because we were all able to bond and enjoy the experience. I am very fortunate to have gone on this trip and plan to apply what I’ve learned from it by continuing to volunteer.”
Shruti Kalra PharmD’13
“The Alternative Spring Break program is truly a life-changing addition to the University campus. Having the opportunity to serve the community with talented and dedicated peers has been an indescribable experience. We all started out as individuals with one commonality: the drive to create a positive change through direct service. No other organization at the University offers such an incredible opportunity to learn, share, and grow by the spirit of community service. We realized the great power each one of us had to make a positive change. It was such a wonderful experience to work with so many great peers, learning, growing, and striving towards becoming active citizens.“
Anita Sharma PharmD’12
“After a day of meeting with professors, working on final projects, and preparing for exams, I came home to a letter I had addressed to myself. It wasn’t until I opened it and saw the green paper that I realized it was the notes we had written at YSOP. Spring break seems ages away now that we are caught up in the work that comes with the final weeks of the semester. We have still found time to meet up as a group several times after returning to Philadelphia, and have even made a trip to the Broadway House to serve dinner. Many changes can be seen in the way we interact now. As a group we have bonded so well it seems as if we spent weeks together, not days. As individuals we have matured in a way that allows us to confidently respond to situations that would have been highly uncomfortable before.
The true impact of the trip to New York didn’t settle in though until I read my thoughts on a person who is homeless before we went to our work sites and my thoughts after the end of the week. The experiences we had at the vast range of worksites are invaluable. If I had to sum up the significance into one thought, it would be the understanding that homelessness is a complex situation. So many variables contribute to this circumstance that it is incredibly easy to fall into homelessness and just as hard to build up a secure life again.”
Sonali Patel DPT’12
“Help Hope Humanity was a great experience. It gave me the opportunity to get close to people from the University that otherwise, I would not have even met. This program was a great opportunity for us students to understand all aspects of hunger and homelessness. The initial anxiety of being exposed to the raw streets of NYC was put aside on our first meeting together. This experience definitely changed my views of homelessness and hunger. I have learned not to judge people by their appearance, and that everyone has a story. All people really want in life, is for someone to listen to their story. I am so grateful, that we were the chance to listen to someone's story.”
Payal Patel DPT’12
“Going to New York was truly a life changing experience. We had the chance to experience first-hand what the lives of the truly less fortunate were. We were able to gain experiences that ranged from working in soup kitchens to working at a clothing bank. The people we met ranged from HIV patients to the homeless, each sharing a unique story. These stories have genuinely changed my way of thinking about life and have made me appreciate everything that I have so much more.”
Jay Minchak PharmD’14
“Help Hope Humanity was a wonderful experience and I am thankful for the opportunity to have participated in an Alternate Spring Break. I think it is important to incorporate service into our personal lives and this program facilitates volunteering for students at the University. Working with my fellow peers to feed and help the homeless was an experience I will never forget. The program surpassed my expectations and I look forward to working with the group again to help serve the community. Anyone who has a desire to serve those who are less fortunate has an opportunity with Help Hope Humanity at the University, to see a positive change in the world by simply giving their time and talents to help the world around them.”
Stephanie Chillas PharmD’13
“Our Alternative Spring Break Trip with YSOP combined spring break fun with community service work in the perfect way to not only bring us together as a group, but to connect us with the NYC community. I never had the opportunity to work in soup kitchens or food banks before this trip. I felt like we truly were able to make a difference in the lives of others and all our efforts were appreciated. Help Hope Humanity is a unique organization on campus in that in brings such a wide variety of students together to work for a common good. It’s a great addition to this campus and I hope be able to recruit many more members and see it continue in the future to spread its impact to our hometown and other areas of the country.”
Jessica Harakal MB’10
March 1-6, Campus Philly hosted an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program in Philadelphia, Pa. During the week, students learned about and addressed at least five different social issues (i.e. hunger, education, poverty, environment issues), met other service-minded students, and had fun exploring the city and its suburbs during the evenings.
University of the Sciences student Hetal Sheladia BC’09 kept a journal of her ASB experience to provide you with a first-hand look at a break spent making a difference:
Days One & Two
Hey! So yesterday I started my alternative spring break with campusphilly.org. We all met up at 30th street station and left for our hostel. We are staying at the Bank Street hostel, which is a pretty awesome hostel, considering the many I saw in India and South America. The two schools involved are Villanova and University of the Sciences this week. We have a small group, 12 of us, and the names are Warren, Melissa, Heng, Corie, Rebecca, Greg, Fiona, Kristen, Heather, Shumaya, and Anju. We all get along pretty well. We did some ice breakers last night, which were interesting.
Today we were supposed to go to Germantown and do after-school activities with some school children, unfortunately the snow put a damper on our service project. We ended up going to the Franklin and bonded over our love of science. :-) It was nice to be able to get along and enjoy my day with a bunch of people with different backgrounds. We ended up going to a record and book store later on and read excerpts from some books.
The highlight of our night was trying a durian shake. Durian is a small foul smelling fruit with a pungent taste. I ended videotaping everyone’s reactions, which were priceless. According to Brittany and Ian, the next week's ASBers will also be going through this ritual now.
Today we went out this morning to Spiral Q. It is an activist puppet theater which provides art/puppets/banners for other activist groups. They usually do a parade down near Clark Park every year. Each puppet we saw had a story. One of the puppets was made by an elementary school boy and it was a representation of his mom in heaven and a representation of his mom on earth. This reminded him that although she is in heaven watching over him, she is also with him down here. The director explained to us that this is the reason why their organization and art is important to the area. We all ended up helping carry bamboo stick upstairs, (bamboo is used to hold up banners, since everything they use is recycled and natural), trace and cut out cardboard alphabet letters, cut recycled cardboard, and carry down their Dracula puppets. We worked pretty fast (due to no heat) and went to lunch at Village Pizza and thawed out.
We came back and Rebecca and I ended up going shopping at Smak Parlor. We all came back and played a few games and watched TV. Rebecca attempted to shoot Skittles into everyone’s mouth, trying to test their eye mouth coordination. Melissa seemed to win that competition with a wonderful diving catch, it was VERY graceful.
Next we hit up the Academy of Natural Sciences. We saw the New Jersey state dinosaur, the Hadrosaurus foulkii. We also saw Ian's favorite animal, the moose. We figured it would be pretty awesome if we could ride meese?, mooses? I got to see how they actually taxidermy the animals, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
We saw Waltz with Bashir tonight. It was an interesting movie in that the animation made the story easier to handle emotionally. I feel that if the movie was in real life form, I would not have been able to handle the seriousness and depth of the movie. The end of the movie is so graphic that it hit you hard. On the way back, I ended up injuring my knee some how and Ian ended up going ALL the way to Center City to get me an ace bandage. My knee miraculously healed itself about 5 minutes after he left, unfortunately. Now I'm watching Becca, Heng, Ian, and Warren face off against some Argentinean pool players at the hostel. Do it for America!
Day Four & Five
Yesterday we volunteered at Germantown Beacon Center. We met with high school students and discussed the problems with education now and what we can do to fix them. One of the major problems we saw was that the teachers don't share a personal connection with the students. It’s hard for me to understand when with University of the Sciences being a small school, I know all my professors very well. I mentioned possibly starting a program with ACS coming over and doing science experiments for the high school students. Later we met with the younger group of children (first and second graders). I helped tutor a young boy, Kevin, in math and spelling. It is hard to see a first grader struggle to find the answer to 6 + 2. What I think they need is motivation to learn. As soon as I started using my fingers or other objects to help him understand the concepts he picked up on it and understood what he was doing.
Today, we went to Art Sphere in Fishtown. Melissa, Heng, and I did origami with kindergarteners. We made puppies and hearts, and I even made a few crates and colored them in. The kids seemed pretty excited to work on the arts and crafts we did with them. My favorite part of the week had to be painting the murals outside the Fishtown Recreation Center. We painted over graffiti, touched up old murals, as well as add our own style to the murals. Melissa, Heng and I drew some seaweed to add to their underwater theme. Later on I got painted on! I wore my painting shirt and the ASBers added their mark to my shirt. People who passed by seemed to really support the center and what we were doing to help. After we had our fun painting, Rebecca and I spent some time enjoying the swings! By the time we left, it was much brighter and cheerful looking!
So here is the end of our week. I made some amazing friends this week that I will most definitely hang out with in the future. I was so glad that we all got along the way we did. Brittany, Ian, Kara, and Stef made this week enjoyable and showed us the hidden parts of Philly.