Bailey St. Laurent
On March 12th, at 2 A.M., ten Keene State students packed their bags and started a road trip to the Windy City to participate in Keene State College’s Alternative Break program.
The group of ten students included first year student Peter Powers, Sophomores Bailey St. Laurent and Kate Marinelli, Juniors Darren DeSena, Adriana DeLuca and Rachel Harmon, also, Seniors Maggie Buckley and Jess Mahoney.
The group was led by Sophomore Kayla Smith and Junior Jess Baker.
The purpose of the Alternative Break trip to Chicago, Illinois was to explore the intersections of poverty, hunger, education, and safety through service and learning at a youth center, school visits, and in efforts aiming to provide children with basic tools for a healthy life.
This Alternative Break team, with an eclectic variety of backgrounds and majors, came together to form an inseparable bond over the course of the 900 mile road trip from Keene, N.H. to Chicago, I.L.
All participants reached Chicago with open minds and the willingness to learn from the community.
In Illinois, the team stayed at the 4th Presbyterian church of Chicago located on the Magnificent Mile neighborhood of the city, directly across Michigan Avenue from the John Hancock Center.
In a classroom designed for Sunday school lessons, the ten college students assembled cots and rolled out sleeping bags to transform the educational space into a temporary home.
In order to explore the urban education environment, team leaders Jess Baker and Kayla Smith contacted three specific organizations that would offer insights about the students living in the area, and the challenges they face.
The team worked with teachers at Willa Cather Elementary school.
Activities at Cather Elementary included one on one mentoring, class preparations, and assisting with classroom instructions.
Baker and Smith were able to contact a health and agriculture children education organization known as Gardener’s; an amazing organization that strives to bring nutrition, motivation, and empowerment to students in Chicago.
Keene Students painted signs that will label vegetables for future gardens as well as helped produce visuals to accompany class demonstrations Gardener’s show to students at local schools.
“The Gardeneers is an amazing organization that provides inner city children with nutrition and education about gardening and sustainability.
They truly make a difference in children’s lives throughout Chicago and it was an honor to be part of such an important mission.
For the remainder of the week the ten students spent their time with The Hephzibah Children’s Association and Growing Power.
The Hephzibah Children’s association’s mission is to help children thrive and families flourish through innovative, community-based programs.
The Alternative Break team worked in two different schools with over an average of fifty students daily.
Their age groups ranged from Kindergarten to fifth grade.
Time spent with the students at Hephzibah greatly influenced the Keene students who were there.
The kids I had the pleasure to work with impacted me on a level that is hard to put into words.
There was an instant connection, and a sense of community that warms your heart and inspires you to be a better person.
It was a unanimous agreement amongst members of the team that Chicago’s diverse education system, and students who make it possible, inspired them to bring back values that they learned and promote them here at Keene.
Peter Powers summarized the effect Chicago’s warm and compassionate students, whom live in an extremely communal environment, had on Keene State’s Alternative Break team, “We went there to change them, but they changed us.”