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Alternative Winter Breakers Make a Difference in Phoenix

alternative winter break group photo

Rima Teymourlouei has always enjoyed serving her community. Having participated in many service learning experiences as a Rouse Scholar at Howard Community College, she has seen how much of an impact volunteering can have on a community.

“It inspired me to find other service opportunities where I can make such an impact,” she said.

After speaking with some of her peers and looking for more resources on campus, Teymourlouei learned about the HCC’s Alternative Winter Break experience. Eager to learn more about serving communities outside of her own, she applied.

Teymourlouei was one of eight HCC students (over 30 applied) who traveled to Phoenix, Arizona in January with advisors Maura Dunnigan and Rick Leith to volunteer with a variety of organizations supporting children and families in the area.

The group started their week volunteering with Singleton Moms, an organization that supports single parents battling cancer. They built strong relationships with clients throughout the week as they helped with yard work, prepared meals, and assisted with the preparations for the organization’s fundraising event. The group also served at Arizona Helping Hands, an organization that supports children in the foster care system, prepping in-home emergency kits and birthday bags.

As the week continued, the group volunteered at UMOM Child Development Center, where they assisted in supporting students learning to read. The students also spent an evening serving dinner at the Ronald McDonald House, preparing a meal themed around snow and winter for families whose children are undergoing treatment at local hospitals.  

The group also enjoyed a lunch at Not Your Typical Deli, a restaurant that provides gainful work and learning experiences to young men and women on the autism spectrum. The group was able to learn about the restaurant’s socially responsible business model.

Group members also made time to visit the Grand Canyon, where they reflected on the environment and sustainability.

“It was such an amazing experience because for so many of the students, it was out of their comfort zone,” said Dunnigan, Rouse Scholars sophomore coordinator at HCC. “Of all of the experiences I’ve had, this group was really special. They were the most diverse, eclectic group you could ever assemble. We had a variety of ages, mixed genders, ethnicities, religions, world views. It was a complete melting pot.”

Watching the group of strangers bond was a highlight of the trip, said Leith, associate professor of English at HCC, who has been on nine alternative break experiences.

“You can see it in the photos,” he said. “When they were just getting ready to go, no one was close. By the end, they are all hanging onto each other.”

Teymourlouei said she was nervous before she left.

“However, within a matter of hours, our group began to click and by the end of the week we became as close as family,” she said. “It has been weeks since the trip and we are all still in touch.”

Service and friendships were high points of the experience for Teymourlouei. But her favorite part was the reflections the group did each night.

“Every night after dinner we would talk about the different things that happened in the day, and all the insights we gained,” she said. “It was just a very inspiring and insightful way to end each day, and it encouraged me to work harder each day of the trip.”

“The insights of this group were quite good,” said Leith. “They understood the purpose of doing something like this and understood the impact even a single individual can have in areas of need.”

The trip to Phoenix was the first volunteer experience for HCC nursing student, Iris Chavez.

“This trip made me realize that I  want to find more opportunities to provide service in my own community,” she said.

 And that’s the goal.

“It’s a life changing experience,” Leith said. “Students are profoundly impacted. Alternative breaks help them become a more responsible member of their communities.”

Pictures of the trip can be viewed online in a Flickr album.

Interested in participating?

Applications for Alternative Winter Break trips are typically available in October and due at the end of the month.  Applications for Alternative Spring Break trips are typically available at the start of the spring semester and due at the end of February. 

The Center for Service Learning consistently receives between 30 to 60 applications for each break trip.  Each break trip has a limited number of spots for student participants.  Applications are reviewed by a committee and then a select group of applicants are invited to participate in a short, 15-minute interview with the committee.  The committee then selects eight to ten students to participate in the trip, as well as three students to place on a wait list in case a spot becomes available.

For more information, visit our Center for Service Learning student page.

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