Students give back for spring break
March 9, 2018
A group of Palo Alto College students took spring break trips of a lifetime this year. Rather than heading to the beach, 20 students spent their time off volunteering in New Orleans and Los Angeles.
The trips were part of the College’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, in which students spend their time off engaging in service projects. The program began in 2017 with a group of Honors Program students going to New Orleans and expanded to include a Los Angeles option this year.
“This is not a vacation. You’re going to do service, and it’s going to be an adventure in regards to the comfort of what you’re used to. You have to go in with an open mind,” said Carlos Cruz, director of Student Life at Palo Alto College, to the students before the trip. “You’re going to experience and bring back to PAC an understanding of a global perspective of how these issues affect society as a whole.”
Students who went to Los Angeles collaborated with nonprofits L.A. Kitchen, The People Concern, and The Midnight Mission to serve and learn among the city’s homeless population—the biggest single group of unsheltered people in any U.S. city. Led by Angela Menke, Palo Alto College assistant professor of mathematics, the group prepared and served meals while spending time with the homeless and fellow volunteers. The group also visited the University of Southern California to learn about their community service initiatives.
Meanwhile, a second group of students headed to New Orleans to assist in environmental service initiatives for continued restoration following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The trip was led by Lance Sandberg, Palo Alto College biology instructor. In collaboration with Camp Restore, students spent five days participating in ecological service learning activities, such as tree planting in wetlands, urban farming, community gardening and healthy eating education, composting, landscaping and beautification, and Mardi Gras bead recycling.
Palo Alto College pre-nursing student, Abigail Medellin, attended the inaugural ASB in New Orleans in 2017 and went to Los Angeles in 2018. After more than a decade since Hurricane Katrina hit, Medellin said she knew people were still affected, but she learned that the environment was hurt and still recovering. This year, Medellin was shocked by the expansive homeless population in Los Angeles and was grateful for the opportunity to serve people of all ages who are homeless.
“Both of [the locations] are equally important… With Katrina recovery, when we helped in New Orleans, the damage was still there and they needed help,” said Medellin. “Homelessness is another serious problem in the world, especially in Los Angeles. It felt good to make a small difference, even though it was only for a short period of time.”
“It’s important to serve to realize stuff that happens outside of your bubble—to get out of your comfortable environment and push yourself there to see another perspective than what you’re used to,” said Medellin. “It kind of opens your eyes to see how your future career or field of study can help these issues.”
As a future nurse, Medellin said she wants to help people in need medically and plans to start volunteering for local hospitals this summer. Her experiences giving back with Palo Alto College have helped her realize the importance of serving in her own community. Prior to leaving for ASB, Medellin and a some of the other ASB students volunteered with Taking It To The Streets, where they served meals and provided clothing to the homeless in San Antonio.
“Serving here [in San Antonio] made me want to go more often and also bring friends with… It is eye-opening to understand the perspectives of the homeless,” said Medellin. “By serving the community you develop more empathy… The homeless are people like us too.”