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Los Angeles Alternabreak | Hong Gao

April 10, 2013

Hong is a sophomore studying History and Math at Pomona College. She was born in Fuzhou, China and moved to New York City when she was 13 years old.

During this past spring break, my co-coordinator, Diana Ortiz, and I led a group of fourteen Pomona students on a seven-day community engagement trip to Los Angeles. We worked with organizations that addressed a variety of issues affecting the communities in Los Angeles:

  • Student Run LA (SRLA)– LA Alternabreak volunteered at the LA Marathon, cheering for and assisting more than 3,500 at-risk secondary students and their adult mentors, who had guided them in the training process, getting back to the SRLA meeting location
  • Inner City Law Center –Adam Murray (’93) gave an introduction and tour of Skid Row, which provided a historical and legal context for the work LA Alternabreakers later did with the Midnight Mission and the homeless population in the area
  • The Midnight Mission – received a tour of the Midnight Mission facility, which offers services such as safe sleeping spaces for any guests and drug and alcohol recovery counseling. Alternabreakers also helped to prepare and to serve meals for two shifts to more than 1,500 people
  • Homeboy Industries – heard inspiring stories from homeboys, who gave a tour of the facility and an introduction to the free gang-intervention and re-entry program offered at the Homeboy industries
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of East Los Angeles – played sports and tutored youths who came from East Los Angeles, Montebello, Commerce and surrounding areas
  • Tree People – did park clean-up at the Coldwater Canyon Park by maintaining trails, removing invasive plants and regarding slopes; also learned about cool ways to conserve water and electricity using simple and nature-based solutions
  • Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Service (IRIS) – learned about how IRIS helps to resettle refugees newly relocated to California and helped with their Friday food distribution to more than 70 refugees from the Los Angeles Area
  • Food Forward – joined Food Forward volunteers in harvesting excess fruits at a South LA ranch, all of which were donated to local food pantries

In addition to doing these community engagement activities, LA Alternabreakers spent their free time exploring cultural sites such as Olvera Street and Little Tokyo, trying new restaurants, and doing bonding activities. The trip was also a networking opportunity for participants to connect with local organizations that they were interested in doing more long-term commitments with. The wonderful Pomona alumni hosts, who provided sleeping accommodations, were also sources of wisdom and inspiration.

Many thanks to our alumni hosts: Barbara Blankenship (‘62), Jason McDevitt (‘03), Jeffrey Bruce (‘64), Carlos Garcia (‘73), Meta Valentic (’90), Meg Lodise (‘85), Alexandra Geonetta (‘10)

As a first-time Alternabreak participant and a coordinator, I feel that Alternabreak was a truly transformative and rewarding experience; besides the communications and interpersonal skills that I developed through planning and leading the trip, the conversations that I had with my peers, Pomona alumni, organization contacts and local community members will keep me rooted in my passions for justice and my commitment to the community.

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