UM Alternative Breaks hosts day of service

Melanie Veerasammy (left) and Jill Ingram (right) take a break from bleaching and washing shower curtains at the Lotus House to throw up the U.
Melanie Veerasammy (left) and Jill Ingram (right) take a break from bleaching and washing shower curtains at the Lotus House to throw up the U. Photo credit: UMAB

Despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus, University of Miami Alternative Breaks (UMAB) hosted its first in-person day of service of the year.

“It was really frustrating because usually we do these really huge fall and spring break trips that we unfortunately had to cancel,” said Bao Duong, the co-chair of UMAB. “But the idea that we were able to have a day of service and really get people to bond and associate with the cause and with the local community meant a lot to me.”

Each year UMAB hosts four or seven-day-long service trips around Florida and all over the United States. This year, as a result of the coronavirus, the organization was forced to cancel its annual service trips.

In place of their usual service trips, UMAB hosted a day of service on April 17. The day gave students the opportunity to volunteer at three separate sites focused on three different non-profits: Lotus House, Pridelines and Debris Free Oceans.

The Lotus House is a women’s shelter located north of Overtown aimed at providing safe and affordable housing for homeless women and their children.

Pridelines is an organization that provides space to promote dialogue and wellness and to foster social change through the support, empowerment and education of Miami’s LGBTQ+ community.

Debris Free Oceans is a Miami-based organization that aims to reduce plastic debris in the ocean through clean-up, community education, research and advocating for environmentally sustainable policy.

Hadieh Zolfahari helps Lotus House staff scrub down a shower.
Hadieh Zolfahari helps Lotus House staff scrub down a shower. Photo credit: UMAB

“I thought today was such a good opportunity,” said Jill Ingram, a sophomore political science and sociology major volunteering at the Lotus House. “Especially in the time of COVID, just to be able to come and get one good day of service in.”

At the Lotus House, volunteers cleaned the residents’ bathrooms of mold, washed shower curtains and cleaned the dining hall. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 guidelines, volunteers’ interactions with residents were limited. However, volunteers said they were still touched by what they witnessed at the shelter.

Staff and residents bantered back and forth across plexiglass, sharing hearty laughs as young children giggled and chased one another through the halls.

“Seeing the love that staff and guests all have here for each other has been so cool,” Ingram said. “This sense of community is so cool.”

Ingram was one of 48 UM students who got to participate on the day.

“It was extremely rewarding,” Duong said. “People really wanted to help out, so many people wanted to apply and have a sense of community”

Duong said that many volunteers expressed their appreciation for the localized approach to service and hope to go back and volunteer with their respective organizations again soon.

UMAB officers say they hope to resume their annual service trips in the fall.