MNSU students spend spring break giving back to the Kansas City community

Twelve students traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, on an “alternative spring break” to engage in community service. The trip lasted five days, from Saturday, March 2nd, to Wednesday, March 6th.   

“Alternative Spring Break is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a trip during spring break where students travel to another city to volunteer and learn about communities and systems that are social justice oriented,” said Crystal Watts, interim Assistant Director for Community Engagement and lead advisor and planner for the trip. “They get to have all the fun, but they get to do it in a cost-effective way and in a way that is helpful to other communities.”  

This trip is the third consecutive trip to Kansas City in five years. The choice of destination was made primarily for its warmer climate and its geographical location. The Village Presbyterian Church hosted the volunteers in their youth loft, which helped keep costs down.  

The goal of the trip was to give students the chance to work with nonprofits, volunteer for up to 20 hours in three days, and give back to the community while also taking advantage of the city’s attractions with fellow students.  

“I would say it’s a great opportunity to get to know people that are at your school that you might not know. Because there was someone in one of my classes last year that I had never talked to. But on the trip, I got to know more about him and learn where he was from. I also got to learn how privileged I am to be a college student,” said Pria Wills, a student volunteer.

Every year, volunteers work with different types of organizations. This year, students collaborated with a variety of organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that builds homes for low-income families.  

“Habitat for Humanity was a lot of fun because many of the students have never used regular tools, let alone power tools. They got to learn how to measure and cut; they got to learn that whole process. They worked on two separate houses within the same neighborhood; they were literally putting walls together,” said Watts. “They got to see parts of historic neighborhoods in Kansa City get revitalized.”  

They volunteered at Kanbe’s Markets, a nonprofit food rescue and redistribution program that delivers fresh and affordable meals to individuals facing food insecurity.   

“I experienced a different view on things,” said Wills. “When we were doing the food community service, they told us that grocery stores were removed from half of the town, so they didn’t have any way to get fresh groceries unless it was from a gas station. That made me think of how accessible it is for me to get fresh groceries because I can just go to Walmart, but they must drive halfway across the state to get something.” 

The group also worked with the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, a nonprofit that oversees the nation’s biggest shelter for abandoned animals.   

“Students really loved the Humane Society. When we were done, they released puppies into the yard, and they got to play for a good 45 minutes, while others were allowed to go into the cat habitats to play with the cats and kittens,” said Watts.   

The team also revisited Kansas City Parks and Recreation, an organization they had worked with in previous years. They helped prepare the Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden for the summer season.  

Schedules were switched up for this year’s trip to ensure that students could effectively use their spring break. In previous years, the trip would have lasted longer. This time, the trip was shortened by leaving early and returning early, giving students the chance to fully plug into the experience and use the rest of their break to catch up with schoolwork or enjoy a few extra days to relax and unwind.     

The group had a “fun day” devoted to doing thrilling activities like going to the Kansas City wheel and viewing the city light from a giant Ferris wheel at night. During the day, they went to the Missouri River, shopped at several city plazas, and visited the Kansas City markets, which are open-air marketplaces with a wide range of foreign delicacies.   

“I got to try Ethiopian food for the first time, it was fantastic,” said Watts. “For a lot of students, that market really reminds them of home because they come from places that have those types of open-air markets,” said Watts.  

The trip was designed to be a reflective experience. Reflection periods were implemented after each volunteer work, where they discussed the things they saw, did, and people they worked with. How humans cause problems, but how humans can also come together and help solve those problems.  

“It’s a cost-effective way to travel, but at the same time it is service learning, so that we don’t just show up and have an Instagram moment and leave. We go, and we learn about the organization.” said Watts.  

Write to Ephrata Bezuayene at

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