Every spring, dozens of BU students take part in an annual ritual … that isn’t your stereotypical spring break. Instead, it’s Alternative Service Break, or ASB.
The program connects interested students with community organizations, in Boston and around the country, to work together on service projects. The pandemic kept the program local for the past two years, but in spring 2023 about a dozen ASB groups will fly to other cities and get to work.
A shortage of vans and rising costs have cut the number of trips this year, says Orpheo Speer, director of the Community Service Center (CSC). Nevertheless, he says, the program continues to serve a valuable purpose.
“Experiences like these create pathways of empathy, understanding, and, to use a phrase from Howard Thurman, common ground,” Speer says. “And ultimately students can become better citizens, more informed.”
Without financial assistance, however, not every interested student can participate in this volunteer opportunity. So the center’s goal—one it shares with the deneen zarada Community Service Memorial Fund—is to raise $65,000 for ASB scholarships over the next few years.
That goal got a big boost on BU’s Giving Tuesday 2022, which took place November 29. Two alums pledged to match the first $2,022 in gifts to the deneen zarada fund, with the proceeds to support ASB. All told, the fund received $8,287 from 93 donors that day.
“We chose ASB because it’s a life-changing opportunity—an amplification of all that BU offers.”
1839 Society member Chris Weber (Pardee’01)
Donors John Ruda (CAS’03) and Chris Weber (Pardee’01) chose the matching amount to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their friend deneen zarada’s graduation from BU and her death in a car accident the same year.
John and Chris, who are members of the 1839 Society for BU’s leaders in annual giving, established the fund three years ago to honor deneen (Sargent’02) and her extraordinary commitment to public service.
In her time at BU, deneen (who preferred not to capitalize her name) served as a program manager for the First-Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP) and as FYSOP coordinator at the CSC. She also served as an RA, an admissions volunteer, a member of the Senior Week 2002 Committee, and more.
But what her friends remember most is her spirit.
“She was a connector who would help eliminate the things that would block you from succeeding,” says John.
“She was there to be all in on whatever she was doing, and she brought what felt like a large institution together in a way that helped you find your small slice of community.”
He and Chris chose to support ASB “because it’s a life-changing opportunity,” Chris says. “Improving conditions for those in need while building lifelong friendships, community, and understanding—that is deneen in a nutshell.”
“ASB is an opportunity to learn more about the world around you. And when you volunteer, anything you contribute is going to make a change.”
ASB participant Miran Hong (CAS’23)
One student who knows the value of ASB firsthand is Miran Hong (CAS’23). Miran, who is majoring in political science and uses they/them pronouns, participated in a pre-pandemic service trip to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. They are currently working with a fellow coordinator to plan a project next spring with a food bank in Des Moines, Iowa.
“When you live in a specific place and don’t get to travel much,” says Miran, “this is an opportunity to learn more about the world around you and partake of experiences you haven’t had a chance to before.”
On the Harpers Ferry trip, Miran helped clean up a national park and rebuild some fences—something that jibed nicely with their interest in environmental issues.
“I feel like when you volunteer, anything you contribute is going to make a change,” they said. “Whatever you do in the communities you visit, even if it’s the smallest thing, it’s definitely going to make some sort of change.”
And who knows what ripple effects that change will have?
“ASB provides a lifetime of opportunities to make an impact,” says John Ruda. “In addition to creating immediate opportunities to engage in service projects across the country, ASB and the deneen fund develop community-minded future leaders with a lifetime ahead of them to keep making a difference in the world.”