Cancun, Miami Beach and South Padre Island are top spring break destinations for college students looking to escape the cold and have some fun before final exams and graduation.
However, for the last 17 years, a group of Wayne State students has elected to stay home and spend their week off participating in Alternative Spring Break Detroit (ASBD). This year, the 50 students selected for the program, and 12 student leaders will be immersed in volunteering and learning about the city.
Each day of ASBD has a theme, and on Tuesday, March 10 it is civic engagement. Beginning at 6:15 a.m., the students will spend the day at the TCF Center opening envelopes and feeding absentee ballots into voting machines for Michigan’s presidential primary election. On Friday evening, the students went through a three-hour training required of election workers.
The volunteer opportunity came about as the result of a relationship developed between WSU Student Senate President Stuart Baum and the Detroit City Clerk’s office as they worked to bring the first ever on-campus polling location to the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne Law. The city even had representatives at FestiFall where it signed up another 70 students to work at the polls.
“It’s kind of a thank you, we wanted to help them out for helping us out,” said Brandon Shamoun, who participated in ASBD as a student seven years ago and now oversees it for the Dean of Students Office (DOSO).
Shamoun says DOSO encourages new and transfer students to apply for ASBD because of the strong connections it creates. Waleed Eliwat, a senior majoring in biochemistry and one of this year’s ASBD organizers, is a perfect example. He has done the program each year since he arrived as a freshman from San Francisco.
“Through the program I met a lot of other people who had similar values as me of wanting to give back and learning more about where they go to school,” said Eliwat. “I also met some of my mentors who taught me how to do the college thing.”
Throughout spring break, the 62 participants will volunteer at a total of 19 sites providing 2,108 service hours.
The week also includes a bus tour of the city, a movie at Cinema Detroit, an activity at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, ethnic meals provided by Detroit restaurants and spending each night at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church.
“People underestimate how fun it is, the bonding and the great food,” said Eliwat. “I don’t see it as giving up spring break, it’s very much my regular spring break that I get to enjoy like any other college student.”
Sarosh Irani, a senior majoring in public health and public affairs and the other student organizer puts it like this.
“The people going away are missing out, not us.”