Giving back

Service Saturdays offer students the opportunity to help their community

By Ollie Ajami | 8/15/14 3:08pm

By Ollie Ajami

Whether students are trying to find ways to fulfill LIB 100 or 201 requirements, give back to the community, meet new people or perhaps all of the above, “Service Saturdays” may be just the thing they’re looking for.

Grand Valley State University’s Alternative Breaks organization and the Community Service Learning Center are collaborating with nonprofit organizations in the Grand Rapids area on the program. The goal of Service Saturday is to serve the community in various ways such as mentoring, educating and doing labor work.

Alternative Breaks focuses on different social issues throughout the nation on educational breaks from GVSU. Among other events and trips, the organization has been sponsoring Service Saturdays since 2012 and is providing a continual effort to enhance the program for years to come.

During last year’s season of Service Saturdays, there were nine different trips in which GVSU students ventured out to execute diverse tasks.

In the past, GVSU students have teamed up with organizations like Rays of Hope, S.P.O.R.T.S and the Blandford Nature Center.

Alternative Breaks representatives often encourage GVSU students to participate at least once throughout the year.

“The satisfaction for doing something with your Saturday and interacting with those who are passionate is why I truly enjoy what I do,” said Ryan Carrier, an Alternative Breaks community impact leader.

To open up this fall semester, Alternative Breaks will be hosting their first Service Saturday on Aug. 23 and will return to the Blandford Nature Center. There will be a specific approach for the 2014 season, Carrier said. 

“We want to get a wide, diverse range of individuals involved this year,” he added.

At the Jan. 2013 event, participating students were linked with Rays of Hope International – a nonprofit organization that takes pride in providing humanitarian aid by providing shelter, food, clothing, clean water, healthcare and education to those who may not have access to such resources. During the event, GVSU students sorted medical supplies and prepared shipments to medical clinics in Haiti. Rays of Hope is committed to helping not only those in the Grand Rapids area, but the world. 

On Oct. 26, 2013, GVSU students took part in the national contribution, “Make A Difference Day.” The day is designated to the effort of people around the U.S. simply making a difference to improve the lives of others. About 350 students volunteered at GVSU’s Make A Difference Day with various nonprofit organizations in the Grand Rapids community.

One of the more notable volunteering matchups was with GVSU’s Alternative Breaks and S.P.O.R.T.S., a nonprofit organization that strives to provide opportunities and recreation to kids around the world through student-to-student relationships. The two volunteering entities helped run a basketball camp at Harrison Park Schools.

“I had an amazing time working with S.P.O.R.T.S. and students of Harrison Park Schools; us mentors connected really well with the students,” said Alison von Werder, former president of Alternative Breaks. “It was a great experience, and hearing how appreciative the students were in regard to connecting well with the mentors was pleasing.”

In August 2013, the first Service Saturday of the fall semester was focused on incoming freshmen and transfer student participation. Alternative Breaks aimed their attention toward familiarizing those students with the opportunities offered through GVSU.

The Blandford Nature Center seemed like the most fitting place to go during that time of the year in order to allow the students to take advantage of Michigan’s fleeting good weather. A total of 18 students helped clean up trails along with other outdoor tasks such as hauling cut wood to a sugar shack where maple syrup was made.

Aside from providing a service to improve the Grand Rapids community, students enjoy volunteering at places such as Blandford Nature Center.

“I’ve been there four times already and love working with the people there. They do an exceptional job educating you, not just allowing you to do work,” von Werder said.

Accepting gratitude from those being helped isn’t the only reward from participating in Service Saturdays.

“Working with the many nonprofit organizations around the Grand Rapids community has opened my eyes to the many relationships you can build with not only those you serve with, but for,” von Werder said. “Relationship building is the best thing about serving for others.”

To get more information about Alternative Breaks and Service Saturdays registration, visit or visit the CSLC office located in the Kirkhof Center.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Lanthorn.