Journey to New York: Student story on campus-sponsored ‘Alternative Break’

Ross Schuette, Copy Editor

The service trip to New York City was undoubtedly the best way I could have spent my spring break. I had been at work, a week before hearing about the trip, when I was talking with a co-worker about doing a service trip over spring break, like people do for Habitat for Humanity. I was in the Clarion office only a week later when I looked up and saw the big posters for service trips offered through Madison Area Technical College. Despite the deadline being one week overdue, I heard from the Volunteer Center that they were still accepting applications for the trip.

It took me a while before I decided to apply and finally commit to going. Internally, I was trying to make sure that I was going to take up this opportunity for the right reasons. My initial reasons for going were the facts that it was a low-cost trip to New York and that I’ve never been there before. While these incentives for going were fulfilled, I was very shocked at the end of the trip to find myself discovering there were other benefits I got out of partaking in this service opportunity.

Upon arriving in New York, I was enamored by almost everything I saw in Manhattan. I saw more than four taxis right next to each other and took pictures like an eager tourist. I was smitten with the vast array of architecture everywhere I went, from standard apartment buildings—which weren’t so standard with upwards of 30 stories and exquisite exterior appearances—to the domineering skyscrapers standing hundreds of meters tall. Everywhere I went there were masses of people, tourists and residents alike. As cool as the big city feel was, I knew that the life of a city doesn’t lie solely in its outward facade. After a bit of sightseeing, our group finally got to delve into various communities of people, which is what the city is actually composed of.

The first organization we helped was the Henry St. Settlement, which is a non-profit organization founded in 1893. The Henry St. Settlement aids an ethnically diverse crowd in the very diverse Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the place we got to help out at was one of their senior centers.

When we arrived in the morning at the senior center, which was a very popular place, I was overwhelmed by how happy the people there looked to see us. Within minutes I greeted five women and made small talk with them, amazed at how warmly they were receiving us. The first stop there was just for the tour, and we returned a few hours later.

The crowd in the afternoon had thinned out a bit, but it was just as lively as the morning. The help we provided included preparing meals for their dinner, which is offered free of charge. Other things we did included hanging out with people and getting to know them. I met a guy who had brilliant hand-drawn artwork, and he taught me how to draw. It was great being able to spend time with him and many others the two days we were at the senior center.

Other places we helped were Central Park, where we picked up litter, and a place called the Covenant House. The Covenant House offers amazing support for troubled youths ages 17-20, and provides any service necessary for them to get their lives back in order. They help anyone who comes in, and if they don’t fit the age requirement, they will provide immediate services such as food, water and clothing, before they refer them to an organization that can better support their needs.

The last place we volunteered at was the Helping Hands Food Pantry located in Harlem. The people we helped, predominantly Latina women, were just as friendly and well receiving as the others we helped at the other organizations. The neighborhood we were in was not as flashy as other parts of Manhattan, but the women we were helping made the experience so bright and rewarding.

Everywhere we volunteered did an extraordinary job of enabling us to see parts of New York not often portrayed in the media or in the conventional notions of New York. However, encountering the wonderful people there made it easy to cast out stereotypes and misperceptions. It was so rewarding to see the real parts of New York, and it made such a good impact on me. I want to return to New York as soon as I can, and the first things I want to do are go back to a few places where I met special people. I would rather see them again and have them remember me before I go to any popular tourist spots.

To read other articles on Madison College students’ experiences in New York, visit our website: