Students Spend Spring Break Learning About Public Health

March 25, 2011

Vital Bridges Food Pantry
Photo by Sofia Macias

Instead of venturing to a typical spring break destination, 16 students opted to venture to the Windy City for a week-long journey to learn more about public health. While there, they discovered that public health is the right to live a healthy and productive life. In order to lead that life, individuals require a clean, safe environment to work and play in, an attentive and fair medical system, and access to nutritious food.

“Everyone has the right to be healthy and live in a healthy community,” explained Nicole Smallwood (Class of 2013). “Many of the community partners we visited do so much to try and educate this generation, so they can pass on the same teachings to the next generations.”

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As part of their education on public health, students visited the Chicago Recovery Alliance, which sends mobile outreach vans filled with cookers, clean needles, safe sex kits, and Naloxone to various locations around Chicago every day. The program has been criticized for encouraging drug use and passing out the liquid drug that can counteract an overdose. John Gutenson, a staff member of the program and a former drug-user, defended the program. “This program does not encourage drug use,” he said. “You guys are all sitting here with boxes of needles. Does that make you want to get high?"


During a trip to Vital Bridges, students prepared safe sex kits, organized the food pantry and gathered needed items for the clients. Vital Bridges is a community program that works alongside families affected by HIV/AIDS to help ensure they maintain a stable home, a healthy diet and strong mental health. While client visits with their dietitian and caseworker, volunteers gather groceries that clients selected from an approved list.

A Safe Haven   LVEJO

Brianne Quist (Class of 2012) speaks with Minister Chuck of A Safe Haven, while he gave a tour of the clothes closet. With three locations in the Chicago area, A Safe Haven works with underserved families by providing in-house residence and enrollment in classes to further education. The clothes are given to the clients staying in the residential facilities. “When people have nice clothes, they feel good,” explained Minister Chuck. “That’s the first step in getting these folks out of whatever they’re going through. We build them up.”


The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) led students on toxic tour of the area surrounding their community and its urban garden. The tour consisted of visiting Little Villages urban garden, the new Boys and Girls Club Center and a nearby coal factory, which is one of two in Illinois, both of which are located in small Mexican-American communities. Having been known to dump toxic waste into the nearby water supply and to burn drums during the day, the factory contributes to pollution and has contaminated surrounding land with toxic chemicals.

AIDS Foundation of Chicago  

During a presentation given by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, participants learned more about the organization’s goal and upcoming projects. The organization works with members of the HIV/AIDS community to assist with finding suitable housing and medical care and to educate the population on further HIV/AIDS prevention. Among the many projects the Foundation works on, upcoming events include an HIV Run-Walk Marathon and a Female Condom Campaign, which is aimed at empowering women and educating the female population on other prevention options besides birth control pills and traditional condoms.




During the trip, students were able to step out of their comfort zones and work alongside the underserved clients with whom they were interacting. “I wasn’t always comfortable,” confessed Rockeven Desir (Class of 2014). “I felt especially uncomfortable preparing the safe-sex kits, and I didn’t always feel comfortable in some of the communities we walked through. But the experience did allow me to experience something I never would have otherwise.”

Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is facilitated by Rollins Immersion: Citizens Take Action and offers opportunities to students who wish to practice community service and leadership. Along with the service, facilitators work hard to allow students to experience the culture of the area they are visiting. “I signed up for ASB, because it’s something different,” commented Katie Powell (Class of 2011). “I enjoy coming back after break and explaining to my peers all the different things I experienced.”

“I strongly believe alternative spring break trips are a transformative part of the student-learning experience here at Rollins,” said Meredith Hein, assistant director of community engagement and one of the leaders of the trip. “These experiences expose participants to critical cultural, social, political and structural issues in the community. Students are immersed in the big challenges and questions that face communities in the 21st Century.”

View more photos from the trip.

By Sofia Macias (Class of 2013HH)

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