Philadelphia Alternative Spring Break trip heads to poverty stricken neighborhoods

By Elizabeth Sekkes
Comment Staff

It may be simple to assume that Bridgewater State University students are forsaking their assignments for the beach and careless partying this spring break.

However, many students have decided to selflessly spend their week away from home by doing works of charity for those in need.

This year, students and staff members will take part in three Alternative Spring Break trips to Philadelphia, Atlanta and Cincinnati.

During these Alternative Spring Break trips, participating students will get the opportunity to reach out to individuals in need through completing service projects.

“The idea is for students to take a break from their normal everyday lives and make a difference in another community,” said Ashlee Downing, one of the staff leaders for the Alternative Spring Break trip to Philadelphia.

Melanie Mitchell, a senior who is the student team leader for the Philadelphia trip, said she has been greatly impacted by her participation in the Alternative Break program.

“The trips that I have been on in the past have been the most meaningful part of my college career,” Mitchell said. “I feel that I owe a great portion of my personal growth to them. The value of participating in an Alternative Break trip experience extends far beyond the one week of service.”

Downing said the Alternative Spring Break trips at BSU have been taking place for about six years. She is especially excited to travel to Philadelphia this year, where there is a tremendous need, especially in the education system.

“There’s a lot of diversity in Philadelphia,” Downing said. “They’re known for their struggling education program. All the trips have a different focus and this one is focusing on urban poverty and education.”

Downing’s group will transport school supplies to the schools in Philadelphia. While there, those participating in the Philadelphia trip will spend time working with children in an after-school program.

“You build relationships with the [kids],” Downing said. “They have the same goals and dreams. And they just want someone to be able to tell them that they can do it.”

Downing said the amount of poverty in Philadelphia is sadly very distinct.

“I think Philadelphia is like many other main cities, where you can actually see the line where the rich are and where the less fortunate are,” Downing said. “It’s like you turn a street corner and you see the poverty is undeniable. You can’t miss it.”

Downing said the Alternative Spring Break trips allow students to experience a social need personally, and to act on it firsthand.

“Essentially, the reason I like these trips is you’re given the opportunity to look deeper at a social justice issue,” Downing said. “Instead of talking about it, you’re experiencing it, you’re living it, and meanwhile you’re forming relationships and bonds.”

Mitchell said she believes the Alternative Break trips are a necessary means for students to take a step back and to appreciate what they have in their lives, as opposed to other communities.

“In past trips, it was impactful to witness moments like a guest at a soup kitchen so grateful to get only a sleeping bag,” Mitchell said. “Or another asking for advice about how to find a shelter. It will certainly give you a different perspective on your own life, see how we are all profoundly connected, and empower you to take action to do something to create change.”

Ashlee Downing and Maureen Ryan serve during an alternative break trip. Community Service Center - Photo.
Ashlee Downing and Maureen Ryan serve during an alternative break trip. Community Service Center – Photo.

Elizabeth Sekkes is The Comment’s News Editor. Email her at

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