ASB leaves lasting impact on students who revisit sites

Amanda Laabs

Medill freshman Elizabeth Machesky took her first Alternative Student Breaks trip to a school in Pittsburgh last fall. About a month later, she and two other Northwestern students went to visit the school again.

For some NU students who participate in the weeklong ASB volunteer trips, the connection to the community they visit and the work they do lasts a lot longer than a week. Many choose to return on their own time to reconnect, help out or see if their efforts have paid off.

“There’s something almost intangible about it,” said ASB Participant Director Rae Shih, who plans on returning to a site she visited in the spring to do an internship with the program this summer. “People want to feel that connection again.”

ASB, a national organization, runs trips over spring and winter breaks, limiting the duration of each trip to one week. A primary goal of the organization, though, is to foster student interest so they want to return, said Nate West, ASB program director.

“Continuing to take an interest is exactly what we like to see,” the Weinberg senior said. “It’s just a testament to the success of the program.”

Machesky and her fellow ASB participants returned to Pittsburgh to attend the Pace School’s largest fundraiser of the year, a 5K run/walk named Race for Pace. Machesky said they wanted to see if their hours spent stuffing envelopes for the event had paid off.

“We spent so much time with the kids that we formed a really special bond,” she said. “It was so great to see them again, to be able to hug them and ask how they’ve been, and they were really excited to see us again too.”

Though the trips are only a week long, Katie Mallon said she feels it’s enough time to make an impact. The SESP junior went on her first ASB trip during Spring Break and is considering returning to the site, a women’s and children’s home in New Mexico, this summer or later on in the year.

“What’s great about ASB is that you connect with the same places and people for days at a time,” she said. “The trip really made me want to learn more about the issues I was seeing.”

West said ASB often offers trips to the same sites year after year, and even though participants are welcome to apply for a trip they’ve been on previously, most do not because they want a new experience.

Though Machesky doesn’t plan on applying to return to the Pace School through ASB in the future, she said her desire to return is just evidence of the impact that ASB trips make on participants.

“It really shows that ASB doesn’t end after a week,” she said.

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