Established by the Dean of Students Office, Alternative Spring Break gives Wayne State students the opportunity to spend spring break in the city, volunteering, making memories and friends, and giving back to the place so many call home.
For more than 20 years, Wayne State students have participated in Alternative Spring Break Detroit (ASBD), a team-led, immersive experience that exposes Warriors to some of Detroit’s many neighborhoods. Main characters in the city’s revitalization, participants spent more than 1,000 hours volunteering at 24 service sites in the city — downtown Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck — during their 2023 spring break.
Camp-style vibes, “lock-in” slumber party bonding and unity toward a joint cause turn strangers into friends and friends into partners in change. Since its infancy, ASBD has been a source of purpose, community and connection for Warriors, many of whom find their family-away-from-home during this week-long service adventure.
“I participated in the program in 2013 when I was a student at Wayne State, and I’m still in contact with people I participated in ASBD with,” said Brandon Shamoun, assistant director of student involvement at Wayne State and ASBD advisor. “ASBD provides a different, unique opportunity for students to get to know their peers while discovering, supporting and connecting to Detroit.”
Service sites consist of establishments like nonprofit organizations and urban businesses, local farms and community centers. By participating in tasks like cleaning, painting and building, students were able to not only directly amplify valuable resources in their own backyard, but foster new relationships and bond over this unique service-learning opportunity.
For Elena Tsantis, a student coordinator and fourth-year attendee, it’s not only about connecting, sharing and experiencing, but protecting her city. “As students of Wayne State, Detroit is our home. It is our duty to protect it, educate ourselves on it and celebrate all the hidden gems that our city has to offer.”
Tsantis encourages Warriors to take a chance, immerse themselves in the city and make a real-life difference. “Remember, you cannot make change without a community,” she said.
Stepping outside of their comfort zone, many students partake in ASBD as a means to learn more about Detroit. Shadee Baraka, a first-year participant, was encouraged by her older sister to apply for the program. “As a commuter to Wayne State, I haven’t experienced Detroit as much as I would have liked. I was nervous about connecting with new people, but being in a shared place where you all eat, sleep and work together made it easy to connect with everyone,” she said.
On top of bonding with peers and community members, one of the most rewarding elements of ASBD is physically seeing the progress made at each service site. “It was the best feeling,” said Baraka, whose eyes were opened to the impactful work being done by Detroit’s incredible people every day.
A recurring partner, ASBD collaborated with Share Detroit, a community engagement conduit that offers ways for neighbors, nonprofits and businesses to come together and strengthen the local community. Together, WSU and Share Detroit organize the various volunteer opportunities and service-site visits for ASBD participants. “When coordinating, our overarching theme is to support and give back to Detroit,” said Shamoun.
John Siwka, a nontraditional returning student who’s part of the Phoenix Scholars program, said ASBD is life-changing. “I enjoyed observing the enthusiasm displayed by the wonderful young adults who participated with me; they’re special and are our future leaders,” he said. “It was challenging not to cry tears of joy, as it was very heartwarming, watching these young people learn how to make a difference in my community.”
In the pursuit of a public health degree, ASBD reinforced Siwka’s drive to correct environmental and social injustices. “Everyone deserves to be healthy,” he said. While he returned to ASBD to continue to network, volunteer and learn, the real reward for him was coming together with like-minded people to make change. “It proved to me that people working together to achieve a common goal could move mountains.
Though ASBD may only be a snippet, the impact lasts a lifetime, providing students with new perspectives, friendships and skills, all the while showing love and appreciation for their city. “For me, the biggest benefit is being aware of your surroundings, what’s in your backyard and what’s at Wayne State — not just going to school, but really seeing and taking some action,” said Shamoun.
By Katheryn Kutil