Service in the Mountains: An Elon Student’s Alternative Fall Break

By: Meagan Gitelman

While many Elon students head home or venture out on mini-vacations over fall break, others choose to spend their time shoveling mulch and hanging out with kindergarteners.

This is a fall break that sophomore Joyce Choi has chosen to take not just once, but twice. Community Development in Asheville is one of multiple Elon Volunteers’ alternative break programs throughout the state. The Asheville trip works with an arts-based charter school by performing manual labor to repair the property, as well as working with the children inside different classrooms. Choi loved going on the trip so much her freshman year, she decided to sign on as a co-leader this year.

“I fell in love with that school and…with the passion those teachers have for those kids and how that’s literally the only thing keeping that school going,” Choi expressed. “It was really cool to do something that was bigger than myself and to be outside of the Elon bubble. Also, just to see another part of North Carolina that I literally did not know existed.”

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When they first arrived in Asheville over the weekend of fall break, Choi and the other students worked outside to paint, powerwash, and mulch.

“For us, it was just a couple hours out of our day, a couple days out of our entire year,” Choi said. “If they had paid people to shovel dirt and mulch, it would have taken them all day and would have cost hundreds of dollars, but we did it in a couple hours. Seeing that impact was really cool.”

By Monday, the kids were back in school and the school week was in full swing. Since the school operates on an arts-based curriculum, the teaching methods they use are a little unconventional compared to most schools. Some Elon students got to help in a technical classroom, assisting the Asheville students in creating short videos and movies, while students in other classrooms were learning through dance.

“We hangout with kids who are learning things like fractions through music and drumming, and then they’re also using things like painting and dance to explore different [topics] in their curriculum,” Choi said.

Because it’s a charter school, the school doesn’t receive as much government funding as a public school would. Choi explained that many of the students fall at or below the poverty line and that the school can’t afford to provide buses for the children.

“A lot of people think you can’t just swoop in, do something and leave because you’re not leaving a lasting impact,” Choi said. “But knowing that [by us] spending a couple hours there did leave an impact was really special.”

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Choi and her co-leader were able to bring ten students with them to Asheville. They were responsible for sorting through applications to find the students they felt were best suited for the trip.

“[We asked them] why that social cause is important to them, what they hope to gain from it, and how they’ll bring back what they learned from the program to whatever they do on campus,” Choi explained. “The ten that went were people we thought would bring something to the team.”

Alongside her co-leader, Choi had been planning the trip since spring of last year. They chose the program, scheduled their events and figured out housing and meal plan arrangements. Most importantly, they worked to create an environment where all the Elon students on the trip could form meaningful bonds with one another.

“We did a lot the first night [to get to know] each other. We had everyone pair off with someone they didn’t know and just talk,” Choi said.

When the group wasn’t volunteering their time, they got to explore Asheville together. Some took to hiking the mountains, while others explored downtown stores and exhibits.

“My favorite part [was] getting to share something that I had fallen in love with the year before with a whole new group, and on the last night seeing how well our whole group had gelled over the last few days,” Choi expressed.

As a Cinema and Television Arts major, working on community growth project such as this one is not directly related to what Choi wants to do with her life. However, she highly advocates for taking an alternative break and “continuing to explore what service is” for anyone.

“Apply! It’s an incredible way for you to grow and explore something that isn’t Elon,” Choi advised. “You can always go on a trip with your friends, but meeting people you’ve never met and exploring things you never would have gotten to is a really special opportunity.”

Aside from Choi, there were several students on the trip in majors outside of education and human services, who were all able to contribute and take away something great from this trip.

“Even if it doesn’t relate to your major,” Choi says, “it’s a good way to grow into yourself.”

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