Sherra Bennett had no idea what to expect when she packed up her things and traveled to Chicago.
Bennett knew a couple of her travel mates, but the rest were merely strangers.
What a difference one week can make.
She and ten other University of Michigan-Dearborn students embarked on the Windy City last week to volunteer as part of Alternative Spring Break (ASB). The overall mission was to help out at Advanced Preschool, Inc.
But for Bennett, the trip meant much more because she built friendships that will last for years to come.
“We became like a family there,” said Bennett, who plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in public communication and culture studies in April. “I knew I would like the experience, but I had no idea that it would be life changing for me. Every person that went on this site, we all want to go back and help them. It’s because of the kids, who were the highlight of our days.”
Aside from Bennett and her Chicago team, about 20 UM-Dearborn students also volunteered over Spring Break at sites in Toronto and West Virginia.
Among them was Taj El-Sayed, who spent last week in West Virginia. El-Sayed has done her share of volunteer work, but last week marked her first ASB experience. And it’s an experience she won’t soon forget.
El-Sayed and seven other UM-Dearborn students helped build two homes for families in West Virginia, as part of Habitat for Humanity.
“We were up on the roof hammering and using nail guns,” said El-Sayed, a junior studying biology. “I’ve never even touched a hammer before.”
That certainly didn’t stop her from trying, though, especially after she met the mother who soon will occupy the home. That brief interaction revealed how much her volunteer work impacted others.
“The woman said she’s never had a stable home,” El-Sayed said. “We underestimate how much it means to have a home.”
The West Virginia trip engrained in El-Sayed a deeper appreciation for philanthropy.
“When you are part of something like this, it’s like a life changing-experience,” said El-Sayed, who recommends ASB to all UM-Dearborn students. “It makes you want to give back even more. The lessons you learn in ASB mean more than anything you can learn on any beach or party location.”