Johns Hopkins Gazette | March 23, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 23, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 27
Hands-On Over Spring Break

Peter Debartolo, Yvonne Tam and Charanya Sundar (in rear) work on a community garden project behind Amazing Grace Church in East Baltimore.
Photo by Jay VanRensselaer / HIPS

Baltimore is vacation destination for service opportunity

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 Johns Hopkins.

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 community.

"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 schedule.

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 child care.

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 break.

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 neighborhoods.

"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 neighborhoods."

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."


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