Instead of going to a beach and partying, students are participating in increasing numbers in Alternative Spring Break service projects across the country. This year, students from Rice University, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and the University of Oregon came separately to San Francisco to volunteer with several non-profits, including the National AIDS Memorial Grove. At the Grove, led by gardener Ray Goodenough and longtime volunteer Matt Polsdorf, these students removed several truckloads of brush and produced five new terraces on the Grove’s southern slope for planting later this year.
Although most of the students were not even born at the time the Grove was founded, their service learning experience included an emotional verbal history of AIDS and of the Grove from Executive Director John Cunningham. Serendipitously, Gregg Cassin, who pioneered the Alternative Spring Break program at Boston College some 20 years ago, was present and also shared stories with the students.
University of Oregon seniors Tony Minaglia and Cassie Soucy led another group of students who focused on the intersection of health and poverty as expressed in concerns with food, housing, and health care. This diverse group of social justice activists chose the Alternative Spring Break experience to help inform their academic endeavors and guide future life choices. During the week they spent in San Francisco, they visited Glide Memorial Church and St. Anthony Foundation’s Family Services, and studied harm reduction programs.
Both student groups joined the March for Marriage Equality on March 27, 2013-the day before their service learning projects in the Grove. Sharing in the Circle of Friends after working together, both groups recalled the excitement of being with thousands of people marching for social change. One student said that experiencing the March For Marriage Equality, followed by a visit to the Grove, resulted in a shift from the religious perspective on homosexuality that he had been raised to understand. Another student expressed a deepening understanding of her grandmother who has lived with the virus since before the granddaughter was born. Another student spoke about how being where the AIDS epidemic and early grassroots response happened-and with people who were there-made the impact of AIDS feel “real” and informed his knowledge of the disease.