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Alternative Service Experience (A.S.E.) comes to VI; students return from first outreach trip to Charleston, S.C.

VI group receives flowers after completing their service. From l to r: Belinda McCracken, Chartwell dining staff; Amanda Wierhs, student; Avian Schmigiel, student; Walter Gainier II, student; Stephanie Nix, student; Crystal Ford, Director; Shelby Gage, student; Salonia Thorn, student; Sara Tomlinson, student.
VI group receives flowers after completing their service. From l to r: Belinda McCracken, Chartwell dining staff; Amanda Wierhs, student; Avian Schmigiel, student; Walter Gainier II, student; Stephanie Nix, student; Crystal Ford, Director; Shelby Gage, student; Salonia Thorn, student; Sara Tomlinson, student.

With continued efforts to emphasize student engagement, Director of Student Activities & Community Engagement Crystal Ford has been working to expand programming and provide additional opportunities for VI students to flourish and learn in a multitude of ways.  One new program on campus, Alternative Service Experience (A.S.E.), began with a group of students devoting their spring break to helping a food bank in Charleston, S.C., with the organization and distribution of goods.

“The concept of A.S.E. is brand new at Virginia Intermont College,” said Ford. “I felt it was important for the development of our students to join hundreds of other colleges and universities across the U.S. who are involved with Alternative Breaks, Break Aways, and/or A.S.E.  There is much more planning and preparation underway to help build the A.S.E. program at Virginia Intermont.  Currently, we are focusing on fundraising, student leader training and new reflection methods for the upcoming A.S.E. during Fall Break 2014.”

Ford gave the following account of the Charleston A.S.E. trip:

VI’s first A.S.E. project involved a group of nine participants who traveled to Charleston and served at the Lowcountry Food Bank, March 10-12, 2014.  Prior to the trip, pre-departure discussion took place in relation to researching the non-profit organization, learning about the community in which they would be serving, as well as logistics and expectations of the trip.  Basic meals were included with a small registration fee paid by the students, and accommodations were generously provided by a church in North Charleston, S.C.

The VI group sorted and packed around 1,000 boxes over a span of two days. While working at the Lowcountry Food Bank, there was a sense of joy among the students when they realized that every food and medicine item sorted and packed into boxes would be in the hands of families in need within 24-48 hours. One of the students remarked, “I wish we could do this all week and not just for a couple days!”

Although the trip was laborious and many bottles of Advil were consumed, the students did find time to visit the beach and enjoy the area.  They received flowers from the Food Bank as a “thank you” for their volunteered time and work.

During a post-reflection upon return from Charleston, students were asked to list three ways that this service experience has changed their perspective about serving others.  One student replied, “It made me realize that a lot more people are in need than I thought.  It showed me how extremely important volunteers are; and how much of a difference can be made if we work together.”

Ford explained that her long-term plan is for A.S.E. spring break to be extended to a full week, versus several days, once more resources are intact.  “It is a joy to see the desire to serve in our students, and we look forward to building upon that culture,” she said. “We are a small college with our own set of struggles, but our heart is strong and we will continue to work towards greater involvement with communities in need.

“Mahatma Gandhi stated that ‘Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.’”

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For more information on A.S.E. and the Lowcountry Food Bank, see below.

Alternative Service Experience (A.S.E.) is an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to become involved with a community in need.  These opportunities take learning to places outside of the classroom.  A group of 9-12 participants is usually the standard for such an experience. A.S.E. opens doors to do something outside of your daily routine.  These opportunities range from building a deeper sense of ethical responsibility, experiencing new cultures and communities, gaining leadership skills and new perspectives, and learning about the significance of being a part of something greater than self.

The Lowcountry Food Bank, a member of Feeding America, was founded in 1983 as a clearinghouse for donated food items through the generosity of both Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina and Trident United Way. This organization collects, inspects, maintains, and distributes otherwise wasted food products from manufacturers, food distributors, the government, supermarkets, wholesalers along with farmers to redistribute these food products to a grassroots network of over 320 member agencies providing hunger-relief services throughout the 10 coastal counties of South Carolina. The Lowcountry Food Bank also offers resources such as nutrition education, safe food handling practices, and maintenance information. www.lowcountryfoodbank.org

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