Early Wednesday afternoon, seven Johns Hopkins
students stood in the massive kitchen of
Moveable Feast, a nutrition support program for people
living with HIV/AIDS, poised to receive
instruction from one of the organization's head chefs. The
afternoon's task, he told them, was to
prepare next-day lunches for the program's clients, who
live throughout the greater Baltimore
metropolitan area and along the Eastern Shore.
Several laughed as they fitted on hairnets. Some
struggled to tie on the paper-thin aprons the
chef handed them. They all smiled, however, eager to put in
a few hours of work for a good cause.
The students, both undergraduate and graduate, were at
the East Baltimore-based charitable
foundation as part of Johns Hopkins' Alternative Spring
Break in Baltimore, a four-day event co-hosted by the
Center for Social
Concern on the Homewood campus and SOURCE, the Student
Outreach Resource Center that serves the schools of
Medicine, Nursing and Public Health.
The two organizations collaborated to provide students
with an opportunity to participate in a
service-based spring break in Baltimore. A dozen signed up
for the event, which included activities
that allowed them to explore the city, learn about social
issues and have some fun in the process.
The event was the idea of Abby Crisman, a student at
the School of Nursing, and Lisa Morris,
an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) who
was hired by the Center for Social
Concern last summer to coordinate the first 12 months of
the Community-Based Learning initiative at
Crisman and Morris met on a walking tour of Baltimore
City that was intended to promote work
among all the Baltimore-based universities. The two
discussed the common refrain among students
that they wished there were more opportunities to get to
know Baltimore and give back to the
"We hatched the idea to offer them just that," Crisman
said. "We also thought this was a way
for them to find out about organizations that, if they
liked well enough, they would want to go back to
in the future."
SOURCE has sponsored other alternative spring breaks
for the medical campus, but this is the
first time the organization has collaborated with
undergraduates and the Center for Social Concern
for such an event.
Morris worked with Jessica Harrington, the assistant
director at SOURCE, to organize the full
The event began on Sunday with a lunch, followed by a
tour of the city. On Monday morning, all
the volunteers participated in a community garden project
in a lot behind the Amazing Grace Church
on McElderry Street in East Baltimore. Civic Works,
Baltimore's urban service corps and an
AmeriCorps program, led the half-day project. The group
planted seven trees, pulled weeds and
prepared the ground for future planting.
For the rest of the week, the participants split into
groups for the various service projects.
Some sorted out donations of toys and clothes for the House
of Ruth, the domestic violence shelter.
Some made signs for the Velocipede Bike Project, a
collectively run nonprofit dedicated to helping
people use bicycles as transportation. Another group went
to A Reason to Recover, a residential drug
treatment facility, where they helped some of the
facility's clients with job resumes and provided
Other activities included a panel on homelessness; a
presentation by representatives of
AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Teach for America; and a
restaurant night out in Fells Point. The
Johns Hopkins students also met up with students from the
University of Southern California who
were in town as part of their own alternative spring
By Wednesday, their last day, the students still
looked energized and ready to learn more.
Before they entered the kitchen at Moveable Feast, a
representative of the organization gave a short
presentation about its mission and the nutritional needs of
those it serves.
Jamie John, a student studying health policy at the
School of Public Health, said that the week
provided just what she was looking for.
John moved to Baltimore in August and said she felt
she didn't know much about her new city.
She previously participated during her undergraduate days
in a similar event in New York City, where
she and other students did volunteer work in different
"I thought doing this trip would be my chance to learn
more about Baltimore," she said, "and
maybe give me some opportunities for future volunteer work,
either here [at Moveable Feast] or the
other places that we were."
Charanya Sundar, a senior neuroscience major,
expressed a similar sentiment.
"I've been in Baltimore for four years, but I really
haven't seen it," Sundar said. "I have not
been much farther than the Homewood campus and the medical
campus. I mean, I've seen sections of
the city in passing, but this trip has really opened my
eyes to what really goes on in some of the other
Sundar, who plans to stay in Baltimore after
graduation, also wanted to learn about more
city-based volunteer opportunities.
Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the Center for Social
Concern, said that he initially suggested for
spring break an urban hike during which participants would
"camp out" at various churches throughout
Baltimore and participate in service activities as they
hiked from place to place.
"But the logistics were a bit formidable," said
Tiefenwerth, who enthusiastically supported
Crisman and Morris' idea.
"During spring break, many students take advantage of
Habitat for Humanity's Collegiate
Challenge in areas affected by Katrina," he said. "The
concept with our alternative spring break was to
stay in town and help our neighbors."