Spring Break came to Benton House this year––consisting of nine Oberlin students, a van, everything bagels and a whole lot of heart for community service and social justice. Joelle Eliza Lingat, Christopher Gould, Pam Wang, Donnay Edmund, Aldrumesia Baker, Katherine Moncure and Sofia Fast stayed at Benton House for a couple of days as part of an alternative spring break service. As Pam Wang puts it "Even though I spent such a short time in Benton House, the staff and volunteers went out of their way to teach me about the local community, to give me the opportunity to participate in the radical work that they do, and to make me feel very welcome. I got to make some awesome new friends and had a lot of inspiring conversations. My experience volunteering with Benton House reaffirmed my belief in the importance of a community organization and social work, and familiarized me with the tasks and everyday life of social workers."
2:00pm Sunday, March 23rd:
Their first appearance happened at the Orphanage for the Coming Together for Community and Social Justice workshop! Joined by community members they listened to personal stories of struggle––stories turned into transformative movements in our community. Topics ranging from fighting austerity in education, fracking, ending mass incarceration to environmental justice were touched. There was even a chant borrowed from the civil rights movement that goes "this might be last time, we sing together" as an appreciation for each other and the work organizers do. The evening followed with an action with the Southloop Campus Ministry, a social justice ministry downtown that creates bags of food and beverages to distribute them to homeless in the streets. These urban homes are sometimes under bridges, next to highways or more specifically under Lower Wacker Dr. For many of us the downtown setting is no stranger to homeless in the streets asking for spare change, but how many of us actually think of the juxtaposition? Donnay Edmund places this into context, "Walking with different generations through a giant shopping district filled with clothes and food and commodities juxtaposed us giving out food to people on the corners. I was shocked at the blatant structural contradiction of the system how could I be around such abundance and watch so much struggle."
6:00am Tuesday, March the 25th:
About 100 community members filled a charter bus and left to lobby in Springfield. The bus carried the stories of its Bridgeport constituents, but this time they would be told to the legislators. Photo petitions supporting the Charter Accountability Act HB 6005/SB 3030 and also HB 3754/HB 2627 which would repeal legislation creating the lllinois State Charter Commission were delivered for those who were not able to make it. Sofia Fast speaks of her experience "This trip showed me how to look at community organizing and service in a whole new light. I learned a lot from the wonderful hospitality and welcoming atmosphere of the Bridgeport and Benton House community and the important stories that we all shared."
1:00pm Wednesday, March 26th:
In their second to last day, the students helped with unloading food donations Benton House receives for the food pantry. They organized and checked to make sure the produce was in good condition to be given out for food pantry. Shortly after the students joined the crew at the Hideout, for their weekly "Soup & Bread," since that night the proceeds were specifically going to Benton House's food pantry. The students cut bread and helped set up for the event, where local chefs donate soups and the its served on a donation basis. That evening a French Onion soup and a Vietnamese soup delighted the night.
Afternoon, Thursday, March 27th:
Leaving behind thank your cards and positivity, the Oberliners departed back to Ohio. Joelle Lingat gives us her takeaway: "Of all the trips that i have led as an immerse yourself in service leader, this has by far been the most transformative. the participants were engaged and challenged in ways that are unparalleled at other organizations. The passion, understanding, and vigor with which the Benton House staff do their work is infectious. it inspires me to do more for my own campus and community back home. These are relationships and moments that will last a lifetime."