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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Altbreakers build communitarian bonds

While many students were wisely using their spring breaks to sleep away the stress of mid-sems, or watching enough tv to block out the problem sets which had haunted them prior to their two week release, others seized the opportunity of two weeks free of classes to engage with the communities outside of Grinnell, and even outside of Iowa. These were the Alt Breakers and they took no prisoners in their impassioned battle to help alleviate poverty in urban areas, learn about community dynamics on rural farms and shape a perspective about the world which only comes from being invited to share tamales with complete strangers after a church service.

This semester three groups were planned, organized and released to spend two weeks in Oregon, Wisconsin and Georgia. Led by two students who worked their way through an earlier application process, the groups engaged in activities ranging from rebuilding teenage girls’ self esteem to working at a halfway house, serving meals to people trying to get back on their feet.

“Just like every semester we try to get as many leader applications as we can. Two people together submit an idea and we choose among those applications. Each semester we wished we’d get more leader applications so we’d have more choice in the trips that we send but we were really happy with the ones we did end up sending,” said James Anthofer ’11, a program coordinator.

The first group, which traveled to Oregon, spent one week in Portland and the second in Bridge, Oregon.

“It was very enlightening and we were really immersed in urban poverty,” said Tyler Banas ’13, one of this spring’s trip leaders, said.

The Oregon group worked side by side with people who had recently come from off the streets and were dealing with addictions, mental illness and other hardships. One of the facilities at which Grinnellians served was a soup kitchen which also doubled as a transition facility for people needing to start afresh. The center allows people who had previously frequented the facility 60 days to work, in return for their services the participants receive 60 days of rent free housing which allows them to focus their time and energies on finding a job.

“In Portland we worked at a meal center for homeless street people and we had to get up very very early and it was about an hour ride on public transport into downtown and we would serve breakfast there and then work with the folks who ran Blanchet house,” Banas said.

The second stretch of the Oregon trip focused on observing and incorporating rural poverty into the perspectives of the Altbreak participants.

“It was an intriguing to see how satisfied people could be when they have so little,” said Moe Pyar ’14, a program participant.

Banas added that here, even under extreme poverty, people were able to make the most of it.

“We went to the most impoverished family we worked with—a logger who lived up in the forest and he had about 10 or 12 kids all beneath the age of 17, we went over there and chopped firewood with them and the kids really wanted to be with us and to play with us. It was amazing how excited they were,” Banas said.

The Wisconsin group, led by Rosemary Rast ’14 and Jeremy Sanchez ’14, primarily focused on working with disabled adults on a farm in Wisconsin.

“The Wisconsin trip was an eye opening experience to community farm life and I really enjoyed working with adults with disabilities and have a changed perspective about them,” Sanchez said.

Participants on the Georgia trip, on the other hand, took to dealing with issues regarding women’s rights and health and teens’ self-esteem.

“A lot of the stuff didn’t actually have to do with women’s health but by not having a super structured program to fill our two weeks, we were able to really hunt out other organizations with whom we could volunteer. We initially started out with Cool Girls Inc which is an after school tutoring program,” said Ellie Honan, ’14, a participant of the Georgia trip.

As the time went on in Georgia, the group found other organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Feminist Women’s Center to help organize and assist in routine work.

The grouped gained a personal insight into young women’s struggles in poor urban areas and was made aware of the stark differences between the environments they encountered and the one that Grinnell fosters.

“It made me feel very privileged to be in a more liberal setting that is much more accepting of [women’s rights] ideas,” Honan said. “You hear about the protesters and what women go through in poorer, more conservative communities. It becomes very real however, when you go into schools and hear teachers preaching these conservative ideas such as not needing to know what a condom is because you shouldn’t be having sex until you’re married and when you do, you won’t need one because you’ll want kids.”

While all three trips focused on different issues and made use of different service opportunities, each group shared core ideas and motivations.

“Our mission statement is issue-based trips that get Grinnellians involved with the communities that they serve and that students learn a lot about themselves from and from the other students they’re on the trip with,” Anthofer said. “It’s given me a lot of confidence in Grinnellians’ desire to do community service and make a change in the world.”

The spring break service groups clearly had their own versions of this intended experience in their trips and made note of their changed perspectives and newfound relationships after the break.

“One thing that I really liked was that we got to know the people we were helping, to sit down and eat with them and to talk to them,” said Chloe Yates ’14, a trip participant.

Alenka Figa ’12 echoed Yates’ sentiments. “It’s a really good experience being exposed to people you would never meet otherwise,” Figa said. “At the same time you have to make your own Grinnell community out of ten people you get really close to.”

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    Pat DaleyApr 12, 2011 at 11:17 am

    We absolutely loved having the group come spend their spring break with us here at the Blanchet House. A very rewarding experience for all of our guys!
    Thank You one and all!