AWOL encourages diversity in local community outreach
3 mins read

AWOL encourages diversity in local community outreach

Over Winter Break USD’s Alternative Week of Learning (AWOL) got a chance to embrace local outreach. AWOL brought the alternative break to their students as they stayed in Vermillion to help with community needs. 

Usually AWOL is out and about in the country where they traveled to different communities who were in need, but with COVID-19, AWOL helped Vermillion instead. Junior Rachel Sestak is a medical biology major and the creative director for AWOL as well as a site leader.

“Our decision to stay local this year helps minimize risks to participating students as we do not spend long hours in a car where we are exposed to one another and we are not exposed to people outside our state,” Sestak said.

Sestak said their alternative break was focused on housing, food insecurity, and health by social distancing, wearing masks and participating in local work.

AWOL also participated in virtual activities around the community. Sestak said the activities the group participated in had a deep impact on the community and students. 

 “We are able to have a direct positive impact within our own community and students are able to form relationships with the organizations that we volunteer at for continuing service,” Sestak said, “This aids students in becoming active citizens as they are able to learn about a social issue in our area and continue to serve and advocate for reduction of this issue.”

While on the alternative break, AWOL encouraged their students to learn about diverse issues in Vermillion.

“Our breaks encourage diversity as we are exposed to diverse social issues, communities, and community members,” Sestak said, “This means that we not only do service, but we aim to educate ourselves on the social issue that we are serving, while also planning to continue and expand our involvement in the future.”

Junior chemistry major, Jessie Sullivan, is also a site leader for AWOL. Sullivan said that diversity is a foundation of the AWOL experience. 

“AWOL is the diverse experience that students get to be a part of together,” Sullivan said, “You bond as a group during your alternative break, and it’s incredible how much of a difference a small group of students can make in such a short amount of time.”

Throughout their alternative break, students were encouraged to reflect on the outreach they were doing throughout the community no matter how small.  

“These reflections help us grow because it makes you stop and think about the impact such small acts can have,” Sullivan said, “(They) inspire students to put the knowledge and experience to use back in their own communities.”

Sestak said as a student, her goal on these breaks is to become an active citizen who is serving and advocates about issues in their community. 

Sullivan said that on any AWOL trip it is the duty of the students to educate themselves. 

 “Before we can make a difference, we educate ourselves on the issue we are focusing on so that we can fully understand a situation and know the best way to help,” Sullivan said. 

Whether it be all the way across the country or right in their backyard, AWOL is spreading community outreach in many ways. To join AWOL, visit their social media sites.