Emily Mitchell Takes an Alternative Path

By Lynn McCain | March 19

For some college students, Spring break is a time to head off to warmer climates, sunny beaches, and parties with friends. Emily Mitchell, a sophomore at the University of Michigan and an office assistant in the Chair’s office in the Department of Pathology, chose to pursue a different path through the Alternative Spring Break program at the University of Michigan.

Emily Mitchell (front center) with the team of students volunteering over Spring Break.Mitchell learned about the Alternative Spring Break program from students who had previously participated, and she applied to join this program through the Ginsburg Center. She was accepted and traveled to Bloomington, Indiana over spring break this year where she and a team of other students volunteered at the Middle Way House. This is an emergency shelter that also provides transitional housing for families affected by domestic violence who had to flee their situations without anywhere to go. Instead of spending the day at the beach, Mitchell “worked from 3 pm to 8 pm each day except Wednesday, when we worked from 11 am to 8 pm. We worked with their after-school program, playing with the kids and watching over them while their parent worked, and on Wednesday, we deep cleaned the entire shelter.”

To be able to participate in this program, Mitchell and the other students had to raise their own funds. “We fundraised collectively as a group. We partnered with some local restaurants, sold things, and accepted donations from friends and family. The final out-of-pocket fee was very small. Most of it was covered through our fundraising efforts.”

Mitchell was recently accepted as a BA student at the School of Public Health, with a goal of community public health service. “I feel like participating in this alternative spring break program really aligned with what I will be learning in school and with some of the classes that I will be taking. It is something that I felt would help make a difference, maybe not for the world, but for some individuals.” Mitchell was a bit nervous about going on this trip, though. She had never met any of the other students who would be joining her for the week. “They ended up being just the best people ever. We got along super well and plan to stay in touch.”

Mitchell recalls one of the boys that she met on her trip who really stood out to her. “This boy had quite a few behavioral issues, which is understandable considering the trauma he has experienced and is working through. This boy would act out and instigate a lot of things. He was a harder one to manage, but there was one moment when I was talking to him during snack time. The topic of professional sports came up. I don’t know much about professional sports other than what I have heard from my dad and brother. But we talked about football players and teams for over an hour and that was the first time I felt like I really connected with him. After that, he came looking for me to read him a book and I noticed a real change in his behavior. He had been noticed and someone cared enough to listen to him.”

“This experience has definitely changed my perspective a lot. I am making an effort to not take things for granted, such as the way I grew up. My parents were both very loving toward me and my brother. They are very supportive of us, and I am very grateful for that. I have learned to have a bit more gratitude in my life.”