A Student's Experience on Alternative Spring Break

Written by: Estibaliz Romeo

I was in my University 102 class when my peer mentor had mentioned Alternative Spring Break. The idea sounded interesting but I never thought much of it after that. It wasn’t until the night that applications were due that my peer mentor finally convinced me to do it. I remember that night, I had come home from a school event, called my parents immediately and told them about it and sent in my application the time after it was due. Not sure if my application would get accepted, I attended the info meetings, had an interview, still wanting to get involved. Around the time of finals week, I got the call saying that I was accepted to participate in Alternative Spring Break Trip of Hunger & Homelessness.

That first trip helped open my eyes to the world of people experiencing hunger & homelessness and helped me create the strong friendships with the members of my group, those friendships I still hold with them today. During my trip, I volunteered in food banks, churches and non-profit organizations learning about people experiencing hunger & homelessness in a metropolitan area. On the first day we worked with a woman named Barb, who had told us her story on how she experienced homelessness by choosing to live on the streets and stay in homeless shelters. Her experience first hand opened her eyes to the lives of people experiencing homelessness leading her to spend her days walking around the neighborhood donating clean socks to people living on the streets. The 12 of us, as a group, walked with her handing out socks and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches to those in need. Something as simple as a pair of socks, brighten these people’s day. Few of them put them on immediately, some went and showed them to their friends and some just held them in their hands feeling the warmth of the cotton socks. One type of people that stuck with me were the ones sleeping on the streets. To those, we simply left the pair of socks and a sandwich right near their pillow, so when they woke up, there was a little surprise waiting from them. Weirdly, a part of me wanted to stand there and wait for them to wake up to see their faces when finding that little surprise next to their pillow. From then on, we would pack extra sandwiches or even give away our sandwiches to people on the streets. That first day with Barb showed that the homeless are people just like us. Those experiencing homelessness may seem scary or intense to the public, but deep down they are human beings with a little more to carry. At one of our community partners, we met a man who had experienced being homeless himself and picked himself up and got a job working at a non-profit for those experiencing hunger. One thing that he said to us that has stayed with me was “Homeless people are not always looking for money, sometimes all we want is for people to acknowledge us and to look at us in the eye saying ‘yes’ or ‘no, I’m sorry’, because in the end we are all human beings, and human beings should be acknowledged”.

My sophomore year, I knew that I wanted to participate in Alternative Spring Break again and open my eyes to a new social justice topic. A friend of mine, who I had met the year before on the Hunger & Homelessness trip, had started a new Alternative Spring Break focusing on Food Justice. Unaware of what the issue was but an avid lover of food and cooking, I was placed in her group. During the trip, we visited community gardens, food banks and food collectives learning about food deserts and the importance of getting healthy and nutritious food. This trip had me step out of my comfort zone in working in the outdoors and getting on my knees and getting a little dirty. I was never one to be interested in gardening or working outside, but spending almost every day outside helped me learn that working in a garden and being hands on with the earth, is the most relaxing activity. Working hands-on in the gardens while being with the community partners and group members helped build a closer relationship with the people there and with the earth itself. One community partners that we worked with had a man name Larry and his assistant Alyssa worked with us in one of their gardens teaching us about how important healthy food is for people and how it brings people together in all forms in which Alyssa said “ You can lose culture in language, but you can never lose culture in food”. That quote stayed within the group as we traveled to different places experiencing the culture of each place and how they took care of their food and created their own culture of community within food justice.

Now being an Alternative Spring Break Trip Leader I am beyond excited to lead a group of members and help create a memorable experience for them, as I had. Alternative Spring Break has been one of my most memorable experiences here in Sonoma and I wouldn’t have changed it any other way. Being part of Alternative Spring Break has helped me understand social justice issues and helped me understand the people involved in the issue. I’ve had many people come up and ask me why I would spend my spring break volunteering and not going on vacation or going home like several college students do. With that, I respond with “I can always go home and also go on a vacation but taking that big step to help others and create an impact is one of those once in a moment lifetime opportunities.”