Every March, Penn sends nearly 100 students across the country to spend their spring breaks engaging in community service. Alternate Spring Break (ASB) is a student-run organization that partners with a variety of social causes. Past ASB participants have built homes for low-income families, volunteered at prison rehabilitation centers and helped to improve the lives of disabled children through recreational programming. This year, I had the life-changing opportunity to join ASB as they traveled to Washington, D.C., to serve the urban poor.
I applied to participate in ASB because I wanted to spend my spring break doing something meaningful. I wanted to pay forward the many blessings I have received in life and to learn new ways I could apply my Wharton education to create social progress. My time in D.C. fulfilled just that—and so much more.
My ASB group consisted of 10 other Penn students. They came from diverse backgrounds and disciplines—materials engineering, international relations and philosophy, just to name a few. We came together as total strangers, united by the common goal of serving those less fortunate than ourselves.
Throughout the week, we participated in a variety of both service and educational activities. Our home base was the Steinbruck Center for Urban Studies, an interfaith organization dedicated to serving the homeless population in the D.C. metro area. We prepared meals at a soup kitchen, distributed household items to those in need and visited the National Alliance to End Homelessness. We also spent time interacting with individuals who were experiencing homelessness and hearing their life stories.
But more important than the charity work we did, we learned how to use our skills and connections to make lasting change—to create social justice. Rather than providing temporary relief to people experiencing poverty, social justice focuses on eradicating the structural causes of homelessness—causes related to education, public policy and city planning.
Alternate Spring Break really opened my eyes to the impact I can make after graduation. A successful social justice campaign requires the ability to unite people and organize resources to make change happen, and that is exactly what my business classes are teaching me.
Now that I have a better understanding of what causes poverty and what needs to be done to end chronic homelessness, I feel empowered to contribute my skills to bettering the lives of those in need. And this is the hope for all young people who graduate from Penn—that they will leave with both the ability and the desire to create lasting, positive change.
Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on the Wharton Undergraduate Program’s Student Voices blog on March 28, 2014.