Fifteen University of Richmond students spent spring break in Detroit, Michigan, engaging with community partners as part of a new service learning trip organized by University of Richmond's The SEEDS Project.
In the past, SEEDS, which stands for Students Engaging and Enacting a Dialogue on Service, has planned alternative spring break trips led by student leaders in West Virginia, Louisiana and one alternative fall break experience in Richmond.
A new trip to Michigan was added this spring, and students spent spring break volunteering with non-profits and conversing with experts and community members. SEEDS leadership team members were thrilled with the success of the trip and are looking forward to repeating it in the future.
Detroit had been on the SEEDS leadership team’s radar as a potential location for a trip because of complex issues related to the rise and fall of the auto industry, a central element to the local economy.
“We felt we'd be able to draw parallels between Michigan, Louisiana and West Virginia,” SEEDS president Marie Fernandez, WC' 17, said. She went on the trip to Detroit as a student leader.
The West Virginia trip examines how the coal industry affects the community, and the gas industry is a theme of the Louisiana trip.
The SEEDS Project made the commitment to make the Detroit trip a reality in 2015 when Hayley Gray-Hoehen, WC' 17, was made Expansion Chair and given the task of researching and building the framework for the trip.
Harry Hoke, RC '17, worked alongside Gray-Hoehen this fall as the Detroit trip chair to set the trip itinerary and figure out logistics. He also went to Detroit as a leader, helping pull together group activities and discussions.
“I would go to bed feeling like tomorrow anything could happen.” Hoke said. “It was exciting but also a challenge.”
The daily itinerary usually involved community service work in the morning and a cultural learning experience in the afternoon. Participants met with University of Richmond alumnus Jerry Giordano, who teaches in Detroit, to learn about the school system and help clean up one of local charter schools.
They also partnered with Americorps to board up abandoned houses and spent time assisting Focus Hope staff distribute food to senior citizens.
Smaragda Spyrou, a sophomore international student from Greece, said one moment that stood out during the trip happened while volunteering with Focus Hope. She helped carry bags of groceries to people’s cars and they offered her money.
“I teared up,” Spyrou said. “Of course I couldn’t accept it. They needed it way more than I do.”
Spyrou said the trip changed her opinion of the United States.
“I used to think of the US as a sort of superficial place, and that’s not the case,” Spyrou said. “Detroit helped me realize that. Seeing how connected the people were and how strong the community was because of the hardships they were facing gave me a lot of hope for humanity.”
Both Fernandez as well as Hoke said the trip was a success, but they are looking forward to seeing the trip develop further in the future.
Since it was the first time any of the SEEDS participants had been in Detroit, there were surprises. Unforeseen themes came out through interactions with community partners that weren’t apparent from the online research done to plan the trip.
Hoke said he could see future trips focusing more on community connectivity and how the auto industry shapes the physical layout of the city.
Regardless, both Fernandez and Hoke are confident that the Detroit trip will continue to be a part of The SEEDS Project.
“The trip went well,” Fernandez said. “We’ve built sustainable relationships for next year.”
Contact contributor Rachel Bringewatt at email@example.com.