The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Alternative Breaks’ trip to Pittsburgh offers service and connection

Courtesy | Alternative Breaks Instagram

Most college students spend their holiday breaks in their hometowns or on vacation enjoying time off from school. For those involved in Alternative Breaks (AB), the time off from classes looks a little different, as students embark on trips across the country to volunteer on projects for various non-profit organizations.

AB is a student service organization at Grand Valley State University. The organizations hosts “week-long environmental and social service trips over spring and winter breaks” and monthly events that give back to the local communities.

This winter break AB hosted a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There, students volunteered for five days by working to make a difference in the local community. Students on the trip spent their time at Za’kiyah House. The organization’s website describes itself as a “black-led, power-building organization providing support to people experiencing homelessness, drug addiction, and reentering from incarceration in the Pittsburgh area.”

The Za’kiyah House recently purchased an abandoned church and is planning to renovate the space to offer temporary living accommodations, job research resources and a banquet hall for the local community. 

Students attending the service trip helped to assist in the renovation and paint the church’s basement, which will serve as the banquet space. Ashley Bush, a senior who has been involved with AB since her sophomore year and one of the trip leaders, was excited to get to work.  

“We cleaned out the entire basement from all the renovation scrap that was previously there, prepped the walls and ceilings to be painted, and then spent the majority of the trip actually painting the whole place,” Bush said. 

As trip leader, Bush spent a lot of time prepping before the trip, getting trained, coordinating with the sites and researching what the non-profits were in need of. Bush also contacted student participants to set them up for success on the trip. 

Bush noted that students gain many tangible skills on these trips. 

“For a lot of people, this was their first time doing any sort of home improvement (or) renovation, so we all became pretty skilled at that as the week went on,” Bush said. “The massive project we were working on also requires a lot of teamwork. The work we got done that week would take exponentially longer for one person, so it was really rewarding to see the progress happen.” 

Gaining both philanthropic and various labor skills are two reasons why students choose to go on the trips, but the memories and friendships they make inspire them to continue the work. Bush said one of her favorite memories from the trip was spending downtime with the team. They hiked and explored the local area and spent their nights off hanging out and cooking dinner together. 

AB trips not only give students life skills but also encourage students to grow by traveling to new places with a group of peers, all while working to make a difference in the local communities they visit.

Bush said the friends and connections she has made through AB have been integral to her experience at GVSU. She is finishing off her last semester at GVSU by serving as a co-trip leader for the spring break trip, Hearts for Homeless. 

“I love the chance to learn from the local community, the people we’re volunteering for and the people I go on the trips with, because you meet so many people with different life experiences than you and you experience a lot of personal growth on (the) trips too,” Bush said.

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