By Alicia Gillman
When you think of a homeless shelter, what comes to mind? Do you envision a rundown facility full of people wearing rags for clothing? Do you think of unmotivated people with poor hygiene habits? Do you imagine a dreary room full of cheap bunk beds? If you did, you’re not alone. A year ago, I had some of these same thoughts as I was told that Carriage Town Ministries, a homeless shelter in downtown Flint, would be housing the immersion group for Alternative Spring Break (ASB).
The 2014 Alternative Spring Break Board, now known as the Alternative Breaks Committee, wanted to pilot a STAY-cation program that would provide a “traditional ASB experience” for ten UM-Flint students. For those that are not familiar with the “traditional” ASB model, most schools organize service trips that allow them to travel to a different city or country. Given the tremendous need in the Flint community, the Alternative Breaks Committee keeps our ASB trips local. While keeping it local allows students to become familiar with the Flint community by exposing them to the needs right in our own backyard, it does change the student experience during ASB. With limited funds and lodging options, the Alternative Breaks Committee was struggling to find suitable housing for the STAY-cation participants until Carriage Town Ministries generously allowed the group to stay in one of their transition homes for the week. As one of the team leaders, let me be the first to tell you I was skeptical of this arrangement. Was it going to be safe? What about the cleanliness of the transition home?
When the week of ASB arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. The transition home, one of several owned and operated through Carriage Town Ministries, was a beautifully remodeled Victorian home just a few block from campus. Our four day stay there was wonderful and humbling. Our group had the pleasure of staying with two other residents who were transitioning from homelessness to living on their own. They were friendly, hard-working (& clean) people who just needed a little extra support getting back on their feet.
During our ASB, the STAY-cation service project was also at Carriage Town Ministries. In fact, our project was conveniently located next door to our transition home. With the help of a $5,000 grant from Southwest Airlines, ASB was able to purchase enough drywall for the entire transition home and we spent the entire week hanging it. Carriage Town Ministries is a non-profit organization that serves the Flint community year round, providing meals, shelter, clothing, medical care and more to the homeless and hungry. As a result work on the transition homes is dependent solely on donations of time, money, and supplies. Though we were not able to drywall the entire house during our short time at Carriage Town Ministries, we have since gone back to continue our project.
It is amazing to see where we started and the condition of the house now. We started with studs and cracked plaster ceilings. Now, the house is slowly coming together as our group, the staff at Carriage Town Ministries, and other outside organizations continue to work on it. For ASB 2015, we will continue our work on the transition house and plan to spend the week painting.
Alternative Spring Break is advertised as “The week that lasts a lifetime” but I didn’t know how true this statement was until I stayed and served at Carriage Town Ministries this past March. I am thankful for all that I have. The friends, the family, the education, the experiences, and the opportunities that I have are truly wonderful. During ASB I realized how important it is to be open-minded, to be hardworking, to be humble, and most importantly, to be kind. When I look back on this experience, I am reminded that while my service may seem like only a small contribution, collectively, we can make an impact and change lives for the better.
For more information about Alternative Break Programs, please visit: www.umflint.edu/outreach/alternative-breaks