Instead of heading to warmer climates during last month’s spring break, eight Clark students spent their time off from classes immersed in the Worcester community as part of an alternative spring break program. Throughout the week, students had the opportunity to learn about social determinants of health — the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age — and how these factors affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.
The program focused on topics that included public health, youth development, queer health care, housing issues, and incarceration, according to Domenica Perrone, director of Clark’s Center for Community Engagement and Volunteering. Students met with grassroots leaders, including Dr. Matilde Castiel, commissioner of the City of Worcester Health and Human Services; Elliot Rivera, executive director of Youth in Action; Miguel Reyes and John Graham, life coaches at Legendary Legacies; and Nicole Bell, founder and CEO of Living in Freedom Together.
“The goal of Alternative Spring Break was to inspire students to engage with the Worcester community in an intentional and holistic manner,” said Carla Orellana, associate director of community engagement and volunteering. “This was an opportunity to showcase the day-to-day operations that individuals and organizations engage in to ensure the health and well-being of everyone in the community. We wanted students to participate in this experience while finding a sense of belonging and purpose within the Worcester community.”
Alero Aikhuele, MHS ’23, said the program provided valuable opportunities “to apply what you have learned in school and make a meaningful contribution to society,” and added that the rewarding activities offered “a chance to learn, grow, and make a difference in the community.”
Aikhuele cited the Worcester organizations that were part of the program as key to helping people whose health and well-being have been affected by things like incarceration, sex trafficking, and being a member of a vulnerable group. The organizations provide medical and mental health care services and case management and connect people with critical resources, she explained.
“Even though these efforts are improving the health of Main South residents, there is still a lot of work to be done there and in similar neighborhoods,” Aikhuele said. “This was a great experience, and I learned things that will help me for the rest of my life. All I can think about is how I can help the people of Worcester.”
“I feel a greater connection to my peers and the Worcester community” after participating in the alternative spring break program, said Rebecca Manley ’22, M.S. ’23. “I can genuinely say this was the most enjoyable, and impactful, spring break I have had during my five years at Clark.
“I learned more about Worcester and the community leaders who have shaped it into what it is today,” Manley added. “I also loved connecting with other Clarkies who came together for this program. Each brought diverse experiences and perspectives that made the experience even more enjoyable.”
J. Newman ’24 found Clark’s alternative spring break enriching. “The hands-on work we did in the community allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the specific needs and challenges facing the people living there. I developed a strong interest in helping to address these needs, and have since been working on mapping the community to identify areas where I can contribute to improving health outcomes for the people living there. The alternative break was a transformative experience that opened my eyes to the important role that community-based initiatives can play in promoting public health and well-being.”
“The alternative spring break allowed me to engage with the realities of many social inequities I often study in class through a more theoretical lens,” said Na’ama Sarfati Magill ’23. “I appreciate the activists who took time to meet with us to discuss their personal experiences, core issues in our social structures, and the hard work they are doing to support marginalized people and communities in Worcester.”