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Features

Students volunteer locally over winter break

Community-minded students joined forces to take on diverse projects in Providence

By
Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2013

A church floor in downtown Providence became the sleeping ground for 35 Brown students with a common interest in community service during their last week of winter vacation. The students, participating in the Swearer Center Winter Break Projects program, engaged with local organizations and discussed their experiences by day and returned to the Beneficent Congregational Church for reflection and repose by night.

During the program, which ran Jan. 13-19, 10 student leaders guided students split into six different groups — Beyond Healthcare, Environmental Activism, Immigration and Labor, Refugee Communities, The Road to Ending Homelessness and the State of Education.

“Brown has been one of the pioneers of break projects,” said Alan Flam, Swearer Center director of advising and community collaborations.

Many students work “in clinics in South America or building houses in New Orleans — then they leave and that’s the end of their relationship with the community,” said Amelia Friedman ’14, student coordinator of Winter Break Projects. Instead, the Swearer Center Winter Break Projects provide a “high-intensity, high-impact” week in Providence, a service experience that the Swearer Center facilitators hope will continue after the break ends, Friedman added.

Winter Break Projects — which the Swearer Center has sponsored in Providence for the last 10 years — are led by student experts and change depending on the student leadership, Friedman said, though they generally revolve around specific local issues.

“Last year, a huge focus was Brown’s relationship with Providence,” she said, while this year’s students explored questions of race and identity.

Friedman, who participated in last year’s project before becoming this year’s student coordinator, said this is the first year there has been an environmental group and a blogging effort. Each team has continued to post conversations and exchange information through the Winter Break Projects blog. The groups seek to make it easier for other Brown students to become involved in the greater Providence community, Friedman added.

The program aims to give students the chance “to meet someone and say, ‘You rock, I want to work with you,’” Friedman said. Flam said 80 percent of students who become involved in Winter Break Projects continue to stay involved in local efforts and companies they visit.

On a typical day of the Winter Break Projects, participants were expected to be ready to start the day by 8:15 a.m., Flam said, and would engage in activities like visiting neighborhood health clinics and shelters and attending talks by community members and Brown professors.

Participant Adam Kopp ’15, member of Beyond Healthcare — a project that addresses the social factors affecting community health in Providence — said he was particularly impressed by the indoor market hosted by Farm Fresh Rhode Island and the Olneyville community-based rebuilding project.

“It was cool to see the holistic approach they were taking to try to rejuvenate the neighborhood,” he said.

After spending each day in Providence, the groups came together at the church to cook dinner and discuss the day’s activities. The Refugee Communities group invited locals with whom they had been working to their cooking night, which resulted in an evening of kids running around the church, Kopp said. “One told me that I run like an old lady,” he recalled.

Dinners provided students the chance to “compare experiences and ideas,” Kopp said. The program “made me want to double my efforts in Providence, maybe not double — I don’t want to quantify — but do more and get more involved in what I am doing.”

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