Students volunteer at Alternative Weekends


Students visited Red Planet Farm in Johnston, Rhode Island, which grows food to sell at local farmers markets. Photo courtesy Danna DeKay.

Isabella Ratto, news correspondent

Four groups of Northeastern University students embarked on service-centric trips to various locations in the New England area, including Providence, Rhode Island; Portland, Maine; and Laconia, New Hampshire between Nov. 12-14 as part of the university’s Alternative Weekend program.

These weekend-long volunteer opportunities are relatively new to Northeastern, adapted from the Alternative Spring Break program made in response to travel challenges created by COVID-19.

“[The] 2020 Alternative Weekend was a single trip to NYC. Since then, spring 2021 turned Alternative Spring Breaks into weekend trips adapted to proper COVID safety protocols. Fall 2021 was the first semester with multiple overnight weekend trips,” said Liz Woodwell, a fifth-year computer engineering major working toward her master’s degree in engineering management. Woodwell served as the administration and logistics coordinator for the fall 2021 Alternative Weekend program.

Each trip offered this year had a Northeastern student as the designated team leader, who had the responsibility of selecting service organizations and planning all trip activities.

“I began working on this trip with my co-lead back in August,” said third-year health science and psychology combined major Logan Meda, the team leader for the trip to Providence, Rhode Island. “As a team leader for Alternative Weekend, I was responsible for planning the trip entirely … and for pre-trip education to prepare participants for the service.”

The Rhode Island trip organized by Meda focused on food insecurity. All organizations the group interacted with are currently working to combat the issue in the Providence area.

“We were able to visit a market called Farm Fresh, which focuses on food education and brings food access to communities. We walked around their Winter Market, talked to farmers and learned about an organization called Hope’s Harvest,” said Sam Yip, a second-year industrial engineering major who participated in the Rhode Island trip.

The students also visited Johnnycake Community Center, where they volunteered at the organization’s thrift shop; the funds from the shop go directly toward meals and food items for the surrounding community. On the final day of the trip, the students visited Red Planet Farm in Johnston, which grows and sells food for local farmers markets.

“There is no standard for what food insecurity looks like, … so we based our trip around unique organizations that work to solve the issue of food insecurity in different ways,” Meda said.

Despite the short duration of this experience, participants found themselves highly connected to one another, mostly attributed to the team-oriented work but also their housing accomodations, where they stayed in a hostel for two nights.

“Throughout the trip, we were pretty much always together,” Yip said. “We were constantly making each other laugh.”

Meda, Woodwell and Yip are all veterans of the Alternative Spring Break program, each with two trips under their belt.

“I went on my first Alternative Spring Break my freshman year [in Spring 2018]. It was a wonderful experience, and I knew I wanted to stay involved with the program at Northeastern,” Woodwell said.

As a result of their background with Alternative Weekend, these students can offer advice for anyone interested.

“Openness and flexibility are really what are most important to enjoying the Alternative Weekend experience. We’re in a new place trying new things,” Meda said.

Yip echoed Meda’s thoughts about the program.

“You have to be flexible. There are so many things that can happen, you run late, there’s traffic, plans fall through, the weather is terrible, etc.,” she said. “A big part of Alternative Weekend trips is the reflection and everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions. Whether you agree with them or not doesn’t really matter, you just have to be open to listening.”

Alternative Breaks will return for spring break in 2022 with nine trips occurring in across the country. Meda, Woodwell and Yip all highly encourage anyone to apply for these programs that are passionate about social issues and working to solve them.