The Nittany Lion accompanied the Alternative Spring Break student from Penn State Mont Alto to Montreal

Students spread goodwill through service and engagement

Penn State Mont Alto students travel to Montreal during Alternative Spring Break

In March, a group of Penn State Mont Alto students, faculty and staff, and the Nittany Lion travelled to Montréal, Quebec, for Alternative Spring Break ― a highly immersive week of service projects, leadership building and relationship building. While there, they engaged in a variety of community service projects, meeting new people and learning about the culture. They also did some sight-seeing and enjoyed the food. The experience gave each student not only a greater knowledge of a different culture, but also a new perspective on the world.

“ASB gives students the chance to make an impact on the lives of others and learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing different communities…Traveling to Montréal provided our students with an international urban experience, which is in great contrast to the day-to-day life in Mont Alto,” said Curtis Hoover, Penn State Mont Alto director of student affairs.

The group provided a wide range of assistance at seven service sites in Montréal. At Moisson Montréal, the largest food bank in Canada, they sorted and packed canned goods for distribution to other organizations. At the vegan soup kitchen, People’s Potato, they peeled and chopped large bags of potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic to feed the hungry. The group cleaned and made cards with the elderly at Le Chez-Nous de Mercier-Est, a Senior Community Center, which gives seniors a place to make friends and helps them live an active lifestyle. The group also cooked and packaged 1,500 hot dogs for Dans la rue, an organization that gives the homeless youth a break from the streets of Montréal with a warm meal in a heated mobile kitchen.

After completing a 6,000-letter mailing for La Maison du Père ― an organization that provides emergency shelter, reintegration services, and housing for men in Montréal ― the group was praised for its efforts in a Facebook post.

“The strength of a great team…that transcends borders! Today we had a visit from a group for Penn State Mont Alto. In an activity called ‘Alternative Spring Break,’ these young women and men helped us prepare our Easter post. There is no barrier to generosity!”

While their days were busy with volunteering, after dinner every night the group gathered in a circle to discuss the highlights from their day.

“To close the day, we had a reflection and went through the highs and lows. It was really cool. Especially since the groups were split up, I still got to hear about the experiences of the other group. These were really powerful. People laughed and cried during these reflections,” said Christopher Overdorff, Student Affairs intern who also helped to coordinate the trip.

Each member of the group brought their own memories home. Some are profound.

“I saw two girls receive sandwiches and they said it was the only food they would have in awhile, and I saw them hugging and crying,” said Tristin Iannone.

At the end of the week, the group had a free day to shop, enjoy Montréal’s food, and visit some of the sites including Mount Royal Park and Overlook, Place des Arts, and the Montréal Biodôme. The Nittany Lion tagged along, greeting people and making friends ― although somewhat less recognizable than he is in the States.

“It was a big culture shock because, wherever we went, people could not speak a single word of English,” said Logan Carter.

The trip was a great success and Hoover plans to make it an annual event, possibly collaborating with other Penn State campuses.

“Many ASB students had never left the United States and some had rarely left Pennsylvania. I watched the group spread good will through service and community engagement. They felt the impact that we were having on the different organizations and the individuals that use their services. Reflection in the evenings brought an array of emotions. The impact of the experience on all involved was powerful,” said Hoover.

Photos of the trip are available online!