Students spend spring break giving back

While many college students find their way to beaches and big cities during spring break, a group of 16 Wichita State students and staff members traveled to Washington, D.C. to give back to people in need.

Through the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, which combines an honors course with service learning, these Shockers spent half of a semester learning about homelessness and a week working with organizations that address the issues homelessness creates.

When Hayden Schrag and junior Baylee Brown decided to take part in this year’s ASB, they knew it was going to be a special program.

Schrag, a freshman studying sport management, had seen food insecurity in his hometown of Pratt, but had not seen homelessness as a widespread problem.

“Until I got into the class and we went over how big of a problem this is, especially in our nation’s capital, [food insecurity] was the only magnitude I saw before going on the trip.”

The ASB team worked with Youth Service Opportunities Project to help at the four organizations in Washington. Each day they worked at the shelters or support centers for three to six hours.

One of the sites was the Central Union Mission, the oldest non-profit organization in Washington, D.C.

While they were there, a man who had benefitted from the organization gave them a tour.

“He had a job at the front desk, helping and guiding people in the shelter,” Brown said. “He told us that at one point he was a member of the shelter. He had come in one night and needed shelter and food and he ended up working his way through their program.”

Brown and Schrag said they studied homelessness before the trip, but one piece of information they learned early during the trip shaped the entire experience: The average age of a homeless person in Washington, D.C. is eight years old.

“We got there on Monday and they hit us with that stat and I went, ‘oh gosh.’ It was really sad,” Brown said.

On their second night, they helped with a service dinner that was different than any other experience the team had been a part of.

The ASB team made dinner, sat down and talked one-on-one with homeless people.

Brown, a junior studying communication sciences and disorders, said she appreciated getting to know someone she did not know.

“The lady I was with was teaching me a lot about makeup,” Brown said. “I think that a lot of the time we have a stigma that surrounds homelessness, so [being around her] really removed that; it’s the little things in life that are so important.”

Schrag was paired up with a quieter woman named Tish.

“We started playing Uno, got in a fierce match and she ended up winning,” Schrag said. “Later she told me that she had been evicted from her house and is now living with her cousin.

“She’s a firm believer in Christ and said that ‘it’s not in God’s plan right now for me to have a house, but I’ll follow Him through darkness.’ That kind of hit home with myself being a Christian and realizing that we have so much to be thankful for.”