ASB sends students to international, U.S. sites

Katie Glueck

A roof fell on her head, but that didn’t stop Allison Coates from spending her Spring Break with her peers building a house for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“It (did) get tiring,” the Weinberg freshman said of her Alternative Student Break trip to Mobile, Ala. “When we were putting on the roof, it slipped and part of it fell on my head, but I was OK because I had a hard hat on.”

Despite close encounters with heavy, falling objects, Coates said her experience was rewarding.

“I never felt like I was wasting time,” she said. “I really feel like the work we’re doing is essential.”

Coates was one of about 260 Northwestern students who participated in ASB over Spring Break, according to ASB Program Co-Director Nate West, a Weinberg senior. Sites ranged from a Navajo reservation in New Mexico to Florida’s Everglades National Park and also included three international options: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Tanzania. Each of the 19 sites offered a different volunteer activity, from working at a domestic abuse shelter to removing dangerous plants.

“I always wanted to do ASB because I enjoy getting out there and getting my hands dirty,” said Sarah Green, a Weinberg senior and Everglades National Park site leader. “It’s one week to get outside, have new experiences and meet new people.”

Green said the best part of the trip was bonding with peers she wouldn’t have met otherwise.

“It was cool to meet a different person on campus that I wouldn’t run into normally,” she said. “You realize you can get along with pretty much anyone.”

Connecting students from different segments of the NU community is one of ASB’s two biggest goals, West said.

“Greeks, theater (majors), engineers, journalists -people who don’t typically interact are brought together for an intense week, he said.” “We’re building a sense of community that seems to be lacking on campus.”

The program’s other goal, West said, is to keep students connected to the social issue to which they have dedicated their time and effort for one week.

“The trips are about volunteering and service, but we like to distinguish them from community service,” West said. “You go down for a week to help other people, and you’re also learning about new issues and becoming more engaged in it not only at NU but beyond as well.”

Other groups, such as the Muslim-cultural Students Association, organized their own trips.

Noreen Nasir, a Medill sophomore and trip coordinator for McSA, was one of 15 members who participated in a Habitat for Humanity trip to Battle Creek, Michigan.

“It was a great way for members to bond through community work, get to know each other and come together,” she said.

Hillel also sponsored ASB trips to Argentina and Cuba.

Volunteer experiences also helped students get in touch with their heritage. Medill freshman Emily Basham said she didn’t know much about her Native American heritage before volunteering at the New Mexico Navajo reservation. But as she immersed herself in Native American tradition – whether by sprinkling tribal medicine over a cleaned-up room in a women’s shelter or participating in a Navajo “sweat ceremony” – she said she developed a deeper respect for her family’s traditions.

“As a Native American myself, it was cool to see into this culture,” she said. “They focus so much on balance and are so true to themselves. Learning through them helped me learn about myself.”

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