For UW-Eau Claire sophomore Elizabeth Nolden, spring break 2018 was anything but conventional. While most college students found themselves soaking up the sun on the beach or soaking up Netflix on the couch, Elizabeth travelled over 14 hours to Georgia and Alabama, where she took part in a service-learning project entitled, Something New Alternative Spring Break.
Something New is a 100% volunteer run and non-profit organization, based out of Clarkston, Georgia. Their main focus is to spread awareness about social justice issues and partner with colleges to serve communities all over the world. One of their primary goals is to, “spread awareness of [southern states’] roots in the struggle for equal rights.” Something New works especially hard to, “celebrate [those] who choose to spend their time learning about social justice issues and serving a community that is not their home.” In the past eight years, Something New has partnered with more than 75 universities across the nation, with UW-Eau Claire participating almost every year.
Elizabeth, along with her Communications & Journalism / Women's’ Studies 111 classmates and professor Nicole Schultz, spent her spring break volunteering her time to aid the communities in Georgia and Alabama. Among the many things Elizabeth and her classmates experienced, learning about refugees in the area and volunteering in schools were especially prevalent.
“We would wake up each morning, get on the bus, and go do whatever service project we had planned for that day,” Elizabeth explained. “We would always have free time to go and explore the city, but we always ended the day with a debrief and discussion of the service we had performed for that specific day.”
Due to their massive population of refugees, TIME Magazine dubbed Clarkston, Georgia “The Most Diverse Square Mile in America.” For Elizabeth, this strong sense of diversity really struck home. Although her week-long service trip in Clarkston was abundant with new experiences and life lessons, one revelation in particular stands out for Elizabeth: the opportunity it provided to gain new world perspectives and interact with a diverse group of people from all walks of life. “I’m definitely more aware and conscientious of interactions I have with people,” Elizabeth commented, “the trip really opened my eyes to how other people live and a lot of things that I had never realized or even thought of before.”
Elizabeth recalls an experience in Selma, Alabama that she believes will stick with her for years to come: “On our way back to Eau Claire, we stopped in Alabama and participated in a slavery reenactment. We, as students, acted as slaves and the woman who orchestrated the reenactment was the slave master,” Elizabeth explained. “We had to march around a park and into a warehouse room where all the lights were turned off. It was scary, and it had a big impact on me. Even though we only experienced a super small fraction of what the slaves actually went through, it was terrifying to think that people actually did this to people of color.”
If there’s one thing that Something New prides themselves on, it’s their dedication to helping young people “find their voices, gain confidence through arts and activism, learn skills for the workplace, and get hyped about turning the world into a better place.” For Elizabeth, her service project did all of this and more. By giving volume to muted voices and providing exposure to diverse world views, Elizabeth’s service project embodies the core of Blugold service-learning.
In the words of civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr., “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”