By Shannon Sigafoos 

During spring break week, when many students gave themselves permission to take a breather and recoup, students involved in Alternative School Break (ASB) spent their “time off” working with refugees looking to resettle in welcoming communities in the U.S.

Students smile in a group.

The ASB team chose to partner with Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA), an organization fostering resiliency and self-sufficiency for refugees. Although the team had opportunities with a number of worthy organizations, LSSNCA offered the ability to learn more about the resettlement initiative—plus the factor that D.C., being a very diverse area, offered a more holistic view of the process. 

“Our students worked diligently over the summer to secure a community partner and determine what the weeklong trip would consist of. They then recruited volunteers at the start of the school year,” shared Jodi Fowler, assistant director for civic leadership programs at the Landis Center for Community Engagement. “The goal is for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, to be able to participate in this student organization.”

Participants in this year’s program were: Hannah Stewart-Gambino, professor of government & law and international affairs; trip leaders Ella Dalgliesh ’25 and Joyce Zhang ’24; additional students Morgan Hazelton-Tarango ’26, Danielle Archibold ’26, Tanushree Sow Mondal ’24, Zoey Osho ’26, and Thomas Wright ’26, as well as Jen-Feng Liu, a Fulbright language teaching assistant at the College. The six-day experience incorporated educational, service, and reflection components in which students helped clients fill out paperwork at a legal clinic, held a paint night with them, helped organize donations, and more. 

Students unload a donation truck.Students were exposed to all of the services that LSSNCA provides, including mental health support, ESL classes, employment services, and more. Dalgliesh and Zhang also organized education events, including attending a presentation given by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the world’s oldest refugee agency. 

“On the day we worked with clients to help them fill out paperwork through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), we were able to see how complex the process is. Although we were all physically and emotionally exhausted, the experience highlighted only a fraction of the reality the clients must endure during their time here in the United States,” Dalgliesh and Zhang shared. “We also took away that there are opportunities to help wherever you are. You just have to take the initiative to find them.”

Students smile at a table filled with pizza, pasta, and other dishes.“It felt really gratifying to see our visions for the trip manifest! It was amazing to see how all of us progressed throughout the trip. We had team meetings leading up to the trip where we discussed the topic and prepared for the trip, but being at a refugee resettlement agency allowed us to be more present when learning about the issues,” they reflected. “It was also very nice to see the students form strong bonds with the clients at the agency. Even when we would talk about seemingly surface-level topics, like our favorite activities, foods, or colors, having these face-to-face interactions was very meaningful.”

The students involved in ASB have collectively agreed that they plan to maintain connections with LSSNCA for future endeavors, including online tutoring. 

“We are definitely going to stay connected,” they confirmed. “Their organization and flexibility are unparalleled.” 

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