Instead of driving to Florida or jetting to Mexico, a group of Roosevelt University students spent spring break helping others in an unusual destination – Goshen, Ind. Dedicated to the University’s social justice mission, 10 students traveled to Goshen March 11-17 to fix up vacant homes with the not-for-profit group, La Casa, Inc.
Undergraduates Mooni Abdus-Salam, Samantha Benduha, Molly Connor,
Marius Cuciulan, Traci Gilbert, Chelsea Morrison, Hannah Pilla, Kevin
Stefanowski, Bailey Swinney and Emilie Wilkie were busy every day of
their break making repairs, including indoor remodeling, roofing and
landscaping, on homes that La Casa makes available to low and
”Community service has always been important to me,” said Morrison, an
undergraduate political science major who was part of the Center for
Student Involvement ‘s third annual Alternative Break Immersion trip.
“It’s particularly important when you help people who can’t make do for
themselves,” she said.
In 2010, a group of Roosevelt students spent their spring break helping
at a community center in a small West Virginia town. In 2011, Roosevelt
students went to work at Benton House, a community center in in
Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. This year, volunteers chose to help
in Elkhart County’s Goshen, Ind., which has been hard hit by the
recession, including foreclosures and unemployment, due in large part to
the collapse of its RV manufacturing industry.
“We took the trip to help out people who have fallen on hard times,”
said Katherine Mason, the Roosevelt career counselor who led student
volunteers in fixing three La Casa properties. “It was an eye-opening
experience to see how badly a small town like Goshen has suffered,” she
Hannah Pilla, an undergraduate English major who has participated in all
three Alternative Break Immersion excursions and who helped organize
the trip to Goshen, said the experience was labor intensive but very
“Every time I go on these trips, I realize I’m a lot more fortunate than
many people,” said Pilla. “When you see someone who doesn’t have a
place to live, it makes you feel lucky and good about yourself that you
can do something to help,” she said.
Abdas-Salam, a Chicago resident who also was part of the Alternative
Break Immersion trip last year, said the Indiana excursion was rewarding
in part because it opened her eyes to problems that families face in
“I learned to get along with different types of people and it was great
to help these families with painting, roofing, gardening and a lot of
other things that needed to be done,” said Abdas-Salam, who wants to
enter the not-for-profit field after graduating in 2013.
During the trip, students also spent time working at a home for
recovering drug addicts and individuals with disabilities. They were
assisted in their volunteer work by student volunteers from Boston
University and by prison inmates doing community service. The group also
had the opportunity to have dinner with members of the area’s Amish
Bailey Swinney, an undergraduate sociology major who went on the trip,
said one of the best experiences was taking a tour after working hours
in downtown Goshen where a guide from La Casa showed the group how
volunteer efforts over time have helped Goshen regain its economic
footing. “I loved having the opportunity to put social justice theories
discussed in Roosevelt’s different classes into action,” said Swinney.
The trip gave Emily Wilkie, an undergraduate majoring in sociology and
women’s and gender studies, a fresh, hands-on perspective on what it
means to be homeless, addicted and/or disabled.
“I learned a lot from the open and honest discussion members of our
group had. It was truly an amazing experience and I would recommend it
to anyone thinking about attending the Alternative Spring Break
Immersion trip next year,” she said.