Students Give Back through RISE

Group of Miami students in a field at Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky

One group of students travelled to Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky through RISE Alt. Breaks

The air felt electric outside Hanna House on March 22, 2019. Suitcases, backpacks, and sleeping bags piled up outside the white 14-passenger vans while a few people grabbed coffee and muffins inside. “Everyone was excited and a little nervous,” said Blair Hassett, first-year student majoring in political science and environmental sustainability. “We were about to spend a week in rural Kentucky with a group of 12 strangers!”

While many students were packing up and heading to the beach or traveling back home to visit family for a few days over spring break, Hassett had chosen a different path. She joined 39 other students in giving back through an immersive service trip through the Office of Community Engagement’s RISE Alt. Breaks program.

Student volunteers at a garden in St. Louis Students at the St. Louis RISE tripHassett and 12 other students traveled to Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky (near Paducah), about a five hour drive from Oxford. “I chose Miami’s RISE Program [for spring break] because it offered a great opportunity to get more involved with the Miami community and my peers,” said Hassett. “I selected this organization and this specific trip because I am extremely passionate about sustainability and environmental justice.”

Two other RISE groups traveled to St. Louis, MO to focus on education inequity and youth development, and Nashville, TN to focus on recognizing and understanding gentrification.

RISE stands for Redhawks Immersion Service Experience. “Each trip is rooted in education and direct service,” said Leigh Ackerman, Coordinator of Volunteerism & Outreach for the Office of Community Engagement and Service. “Reflection is a really big component as well, and we ask participants to reflect in person each day on the trip, and through written reflection afterwards as well.”

The environmental justice trip to Land Between the Lakes, KY provided several opportunities for students to engage in direct service. The group spent time picking up trash, clearing debris, repainting campsite signs, and generally helping local nonprofits prepare for the upcoming season at four sites in the area.

About 10 pairs of hands covered in mudThe trips provided plenty of opportunities for students to get their hands dirty“I was able to make a difference in the broader community of Land Between the Lakes,” said Hassett. “And I had the chance to grow as a student and a friend. Everyone on this trip really bonded over our dedication to the environment, and we've vowed to have monthly RISE trip reunions!”

The RISE trips to Nashville and St. Louis also included strong links to direct service. In Nashville, students worked with children affected by gentrification at an after-school program, toured gentrified neighborhoods, and served at the Nashville Food Project. In St. Louis, students assisted in projects at Almost Home (an organization supporting teen mothers and their children), prepped garden beds at an urban agriculture site, and met with administrators of a local school district.

RISE Alternative Breaks is a member of Break Away, the national organization supporting the development of quality alternative break programs. The 2019 RISE trips were Miami’s second year involved with Break Away.