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Giving back to Des Moines, volunteering during break

Photo courtesy of Emily Wilkins

While most Drake University students spent their fall break at home, eight students spent their fall break helping the Des Moines community and learning about service organizations within the community.

This is the first year Drake has set up the service-learning program “Alternative Fall Break.” Alternative Fall Break was set up by senior coordinators sociology double major Amelia Eckles and sociology and politics major Courtney Howell. Both students are service-learning ambassadors and were hired by the service-learning program headed by Mandi McReynolds.

McReynolds set up the Habitat for Humanity portion of the Alternative Fall Break, and Eckles and Howell coordinated all of the events that took place over Fall Break.

“I definitely learned a lot about leadership and what it takes to plan an event,” Eckles said.

Students who wanted to participate in the Alternative Fall Freak had to go through a short application process explaining why they wanted to get involved.

“Instead of just sitting in our dorm rooms, we wanted to do something that had more meaning than that,” said P1 pharmacy student Anne Feldman.

On Oct. 12, students met with refugees from the Des Moines area. The refugees shared their stories of experiences in refugee camps and journeys to Iowa. Afterward, students got to sample different ethnic food and made traditional American food for the refugees.

On Oct. 13, students put in a full day of work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Habitat for Humanity’s “Rock the Block” program. Rock the Block is a program that offers students the ability to help repair homes that are in critical conditions around the Des Moines area. The family who owned the house was present throughout the entire day helping out.

“It’s not the fact that these people don’t work as hard. They’re in a situation, like for Habitat (for Humanity). The people we’re helping are just in bad circumstances,” said Emily Wilkins sophomore environmental science and policy major.

Oct. 14, students helped out with the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign. There was a harvest party in the Olmsted Center, and the students helped by serving food and sampling some themselves.

“I love the idea of supporting local farmers,” Feldman said.

On Oct. 15, students went on driving tours of local places in Des Moines and also had discussions on issues of poverty.

“Afterward we would always have a discussion about who we were helping, why they needed help and why our society is set up that way,” Wilkins said.

Eckles talked about the discussion’s focus.

“We really wanted to emphasize the difference between just volunteering and service-learning,” Eckles said.

On Tuesday, students attended the Hunger Summit, and took a social justice tour of Des Moines exploring different service organizations within the Des Moines community.  Students visited Lutheran services, Dress for Success Des Moines, the Iowa International Center and others.

“We wanted to give students an idea of the opportunities that existed in our own community,” Howell said.

There is always an emphasis on going to other places to do service work. During Alternative Fall Break, the focus centered on helping out in the Des Moines community.

“There are a lot of service opportunities rights here in Des Moines. There are people who need help in Des Moines, not just people far away,” Howell said.

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