Abington students explore social injustice through Alternative Spring Break

Alternative Spring Break

Penn State Abington students worked at nonprofit sites primarily in Philadelphia while learning and reflecting on the root causes of issues facing vulnerable populations.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — A dozen Penn State Abington students spent their week off in March performing service work in Philadelphia and educating themselves on social injustice during the campus Alternative Spring Break (ASB).  

The students worked at nonprofit sites throughout the Philadelphia area including Caring for Friends, Chosen 300 Ministeries, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, the Sunday Breakfast Mission, and Cradles to Crayons. In addition to performing physical duties such as preparing meals for the hungry and living spaces for the homeless, the students learned and reflected on issues facing vulnerable populations. 

Sophomore Linda Zhang, one of the student leaders of ASB, said she participated because she believes in the value of service. 

“I live in Philadelphia, and I’m devoted to giving back to my community. This week provided opportunities for me to learn more. I enlightened myself,” she said. 

“We talked about what causes homelessness and poverty, and what can we do as individuals. No matter which organization we were working at, we realized that no amount of help is too small," Zhang continued. 

She emphasized that volunteering can be helpful even if it’s not ongoing. 

“You can always seek to volunteer to help change a life, even if it’s just one time, instead of being passive. All the organizations we visited appreciated our service. We might just be helping pack up food, but the impact goes a lot further than that,” she said. 

Zhang said Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, a 2007 Abington graduate, led a discussion with the students around the homelessness and housing crisis in Philadelphia and across the country. 

“He talked about the causes of homelessness and poverty, and how it’s not just a surface-level issue. There’s a lot of facets to it, and what we can do to eradicate it. It was helpful and informative, and he engaged all the students in the conversation. We learned a lot,” she said. 

Tracy Reed, assistant director of Student Affairs at Abington, accompanies the students and coordinates the programming for ASB. 

“We had some great opportunities with local partners for this year’s ASB. We look at it as service in support of education. It’s about poverty and homelessness, and ASB leads to conversations about racism and other important topics,” she said. 

Beth Bradley, associate director of Student Affairs at Abington, reflected on the long-term benefits of ASB.

"Alternative Spring Break goes deeper than simply volunteering and service. The students are thinking about social injustices and how we can become social change agents,” she said. 

Abington ASB has a long history of providing students with off-campus, educational service opportunities. Students travel to a site, sometimes out of state, where they work and serve in a community often different from their own. Each project seeks to foster a dialogue between the college community and the host community around issues of social justice. 

ASB places teams of students into experiences that help them clarify values, plan future academic work, or solidify career goals. The objectives of ASB include:  

  • Engage with new communities through direct service work.

  • Gain awareness and in-depth education around social justice issues

  • Learn the value of the reflection process and connect with others on a deeper level. 

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 23 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.