Bonner Spring Break 2022
Bonner Spring Break is an annual tradition, started in 2014 in the Bonner program’s inaugural year, which takes Bonner to a new Texas city or town to conduct service, meet new Bonners, and strengthen our learning community. Usually, Bonner students serve with the same peers each week during the academic semester on one of our seven long-term service projects, only occasionally meeting peers from other projects at monthly Bonner meetings. Bonner Spring Break serves to forge more meaningful connections across our program’s project groups, and to strengthen the bonds between our cohort of more than 100 students. As sophomore Shane Foreman affirmed, “getting to have in-person activities this year such as Bonner Spring Break has allowed me to connect with students from other projects and learn more about who they are and what drives them in service learning. Regardless of what drives us or what leadership personality defines us, we all have the same goal of helping to end poverty.”
The last time we had Bonner Spring Break, we still had no idea what COVID-19 was bringing. Though we had begun to hear whispers about a virus which would soon become a household name, it had not yet made itself fully known, and on March 7, 2020, we packed up our vans and headed to San Antonio for four days of service, learning, and fun. Within a week, the University closed for a full week and transitioned to online classes for the rest of the semester, a state of affairs which, we all know, persisted for several semesters. One year later, still online, we cancelled our annual spring break plans and hoped for better conditions soon.
This delay and the halt to normal life that has pained everyone for now two years made this year’s spring break plans all the more exciting. Though we elected not to travel to mitigate COVID risk, we planned a packed two days in Houston, and we enjoyed every second. On Saturday, March 12, we spent the morning serving with Bread of Life Inc. at St. John’s Downtown Church. Bread of Life is a non-profit organization which provides homeless outreach and housing and addresses food insecurity and community health needs. With Bread of Life, our students got dirty painting, cleaning, organizing and beautifying the organization’s grounds, housing units for disaster victims and homeless, and the organization’s warehouse which facilitates the group’s provision of hunger needs for hundreds of homeless and hungry in downtown Houston.
Freshman Bonner Alyssa Green reflected on her service experience with Bread of Life saying, “the smiles that we saw on the residents faces and the feeling of togetherness is something I will never forget. Getting time to get to know my fellow Bonners outside of the traditional setting made me walk away with new and closer friendships.” Sophomore Shane Foreman added that the event was a refreshing break from several years on Zoom: “Bonner Spring Break offered a great opportunity to get hands on with the community again and do some messy service work. During my two years in Bonner, I’ve done in-person sessions for only about a month, so getting to go out in the community and be hands on was a nice return to the types of service I’m used to. I’ve gotten to know some of [my peers] through the two projects I’ve served on and in classes, but for the most part, my fellow service leaders have been names and faces on Zoom screens from last year.”
After a morning of service, we reconvened in the Honors College for an afternoon of bonding activities, games, and a lecture by Dr. Doug Erwing on poverty alleviation policy. In the lecture, Dr. Erwing presented students with a set of anti-poverty policies currently on the table in legislative chambers; he explained his research on the viability of each and proposed additional policies which that he evaluated would be promising for lifting America’s most vulnerable out of poverty. Students engaged with Dr. Erwing, pushing back on his ideas and asking challenging questions. Such intellectual engagement with the issues of poverty and inequality is a central component of service-learning in Bonner, and it was a highlight of the weekend.
Following an evening of board games, puzzling, and meeting new Bonners, students went home for the night and rested up for another morning of service followed by a trip to the Houston Zoo, where students got to spend some free time with the new friends they made over the weekend. On a perfect early spring day in Houston, Bonner students and directors took a moment to rest and enjoy one of the attractions our great city has to offer while reflecting on our strengthened relationships and our shared commitment to make Houston a better place for all of its residents. In reflecting on our weekend together, Alyssa commented, “at first, I thought Bonner Spring Break was going to just be service, however it is so much more. It is where I have made new friends, been inspired to keep up the fight against poverty, and have been reminded again why I love being a Bonner.”