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Student Life

"We wanted to do more - which says something about us - because we just wanted to do whatever we can to help."

Ida Gnanou ’24 said just meeting expectations on their recent Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip wasn’t enough for herself and her peers: they wanted to go above and beyond. Gnanou and her peers worked alongside Andre House of Arizona and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to help support asylum seekers and people experiencing homelessness in Phoenix, Arizona, last month. Gnanou spent a lot of her time providing child care at a family-focused dining hall – one of many community campuses under the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s umbrella. 

ASB is a standing Emmanuel tradition: a faith-based service trip that takes place during spring break through the College’s Center for Mission & Ministry. With graduation approaching quickly on the horizon, it was Gnanou and some of her fellow student leaders' last ASB – so they sought to make the most of it.

Like Gnanou, Tom Sullivan ’24 embarked on his third ASB trip in March, drawing upon his history in service that traces back to high school, where he “fell in love with it.” Sullivan said he feels called to service and wants to use his full capacity to help others. 

“I can’t encourage people enough to do this – because their impact makes a difference, even if they think it doesn’t,” said Sullivan. 

Even in the short time between year one to now, he said his perspective has shifted. Sullivan acknowledged the stigma that exists toward people experiencing homelessness, but explained that it requires meeting directly with people on a human level to truly provide service. 

“Interacting with people is completely different than just seeing them. Everyone has a different story and you don’t know them until you hear that story,” said Sullivan. 

For Gnanou, her mother instilled a desire to always help people when she was growing up. Seeing both her parents, who immigrated from West Africa, always giving back to their community helped the habit stick, too, she said. “I think that’s where that [dedication to] service came from for me.” 

Cara Martin ’24 and Lanesha Joseph ’25, had an equally fulfilling ASB trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Whether it was restoring the beach for turtle nesting season or working on the farm or for the local orphanage, both students saw firsthand that service can come in a lot of different forms.

The farm opened a new viewpoint from which Joseph views food. She found herself comparing how easily she could access it at home to the amount of hard labor that went into nurturing and growing the food in San Juan.

They also worked alongside the nonprofit Chelonia, clearing trash from the beaches in preparation for sea turtle nesting season.

Joseph also said she appreciated the wisdom that graduating student leaders had to offer throughout the trip – and that she hopes to be able to take on that role herself next year.

“I hope to do the same, share what I know and encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone on these trips,” said Joseph.

Martin said she enjoyed the chance to not just serve the community in San Juan but to learn from it: “To truly serve, you must learn the needs of those you are serving. You can’t walk into someone else’s life and tell them what they need,” she said.

She said she’d recommend ASB to anyone at Emmanuel because of how unique it is to the college experience: “There’s no other experience I’ve had which has such positive impacts and creates such strong bonds.” 

All four student leaders will have surely experienced plenty they throughout their service journeys, whether it be past trips to Philadelphia and Houston, this year’s trips to Phoenix and San Juan, or right in the heart of Boston.