Isabelle Marshall’s Spring Break is Learning Adventure

Former Rhea County High School and now University of Tennessee at Knoxville student Isabelle Marshall took an alternative spring break that was very eye opening recently.(Photo: submitted)

Marshall’s Time in Chicago Gives Knowledge

April 2019

Chicago, Illinois —  Isabelle Marshall spent her spring break in Chicago on an alternative spring break and she gained  knowledge on life outside the walls of her college, her backgroound and her life.  Seeing documentaries, news clips, and reading articles on the subject of income disparity doesn’t compare to being there in person.  She filled her break with a learning adventure.

Isabelle graduated RCHS in 2018 and am now attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is majoring in Public Administration in the Haslam College of Business with a minor in political science.  While in high school she was the Battalion Executive Officer in JROTC, and played trumpet for the marching band.  She participated in the Distinguished Young Woman Program(DYW), Girl’s State, and was selected the 2017 Miss Spring City.  She currently holds the crown from 2018 Miss Fairest of the Fair.   Isabelle is the daughter of Joni Marshall and after college plans work to affected policy in either wealth distribution or achieve universal education.

In college she has been the Fundraising chair for the Tennessee Speech & Debate Society where she is also the #1 novice in the nation for the debate and #1 novice speaker in the nation, the Logistics Committee Chair for the Baker Ambassadors of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, a Student Government Association Senator and on government affairs committee, a Student Alumni Associate, programming coordinator for the Organizational Resource Group, a department of political science office assistant  Shedoes  undergraduate research under Dr. Jana Morgan about the congressional rhetoric surrounding the federal minimum wage.

I asked Isabelle to give summary of her trip and she responded with a very detailed account of her time in Chicago.  The response is long, but well worth reading.  The enrichment in one’s life from a trip like this has to be very educational and thought provoking. 

Isabelle replied, “Over my group’s time in Chicago, we visited seven different service sites. The first one wewent to was Northwestern Settlement. Their mission is “for more than 125 years, Northwestern Settlement has nurtured, educated, and inspired children and families in need in Chicago. Focusing on changing lives through education, social services, and the arts,Northwestern Settlement’s programs are fully integrated to meet the complex needs of our neighbors.” There, we learned about how a quality education can be such an important stepping stone to a sustainable life; this spoke especially to me since I value education so much. Northwestern Settlement has a school, a theater program, a food pantry, and many other areas in which they support the community.”

“My favorite part about what they do is that they really humanize those that use their services. For example, they call the people who use their food pantry “neighbors” and let them choose which food they want to take instead of giving them whatever they have, because they recognized a lot of food was getting wasted that way.  While we were there, we helped make cards for the “neighbors” and judged a science fair for the middle schoolers!  It was so incredible to see their excellence, and how investing so deeply in their success really paid off.”

“The second place we went to was the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which distributes food to the Chicago food pantries.  For three hours, our group and a few other volunteer groups bagged and boxed pears to send out to families the next day.  We ended up bagging and sending about 15,000 pounds of pears!  Those pears would be on someone’s plate the next day, and it was nice to meet the fellow volunteers.”

Next was Project C.U.R.E. Their work and mission is more important than ever, helping to bridge staggering health resource gaps in the developing world by empowering doctors and nurses with the tools they need to treat disease, deliver vaccines, perform life-changing surgeries and ensure safe childbirth.  Through the help of generous donors, they
are able to send medical supplies to countries with an imperative need.  Project C.U.R.E. especially impressed me when I found out they only have 2% overhead with only 36 paid employees in all of their operations; the rest of the work is done by volunteers like us. While we were there, we sorted medical supplies and prepared it for the next stages of the process.”

“Then we went to Heartland Alliance, an anti-poverty organization.  They provide a comprehensive array of services in the areas of health services, affordable housing, job searches, and justice.  We helped clean apartments for new tenants to move into, and worked in their urban garden.  Fresh food is scarce in the city of Chicago, especially for underserved community of the city. What they are doing is important and many times necessary work to support the community.”

“We spent a lot of time at Gigi’s Playhouse helping them set up for their big World Down Syndrome Day! Gigi’s Playhouse aims to change the way the world views Down Syndrome by offering free programming such as dance classes, therapy, tutoring, career development, and more!  During the party, we made sure everything went smoothly and the kids and their families had a great time.  I was, admittedly, a little nervous for this site because I did not have much experience with children with learning disabilities.  However, I had a wonderful time and the children were the happiest people I ever met! It really opened my eyes and now all of them have a special place in my heart.”

“Then we went to La Casa Norte.  They provide safe housing for homeless youth in Chicago and other services such as meals, educational support, technology training, etc.. There, we made decorations to make their living areas feel more comfortable and made lunch for the youth.  It was heartbreaking to hear that thousands of youth face homelessness, but there are only a small percentage of beds available to them.  La Casa Norte is working to address youth homelessness is a real and human way.”

“Our last service site was actually the church we were being housed in all week: Irving Park United Methodist Church.  They so graciously opened their doors to us to have a safe place to sleep, so we wanted to support them back.  They were getting ready to move to a smaller building, so we helped them clean their sanctuary and clean out some storage rooms to make their move easier and faster.”

“While we were doing service, we did set a side half a day to be classic tourists of Chicago. We took pictures in front of Cloud Gate (the bean), went to the Chicago Cultural Center and the DuSable Museum of African American History, and on the recommendation from pretty much everyone in Chicago, went to Portillos for a hot dog and Lou Malnati’s for some classic Chicago deep dish pizza.  I loved Chicago and was constantly impressed with different areas of the Chicago such as their public transportation system (Nashville, take notes), their enormous and plentiful buildings, but most of all the people of Chicago.  Every single person we talked to was so passionate about their city and want to serve its people as much as they could.  It was truly all truly inspiring and made me never want to leave.”

How did you find out about the project?

“I found out about the Alternative Break Program actually back when I was touring colleges my junior year of high school. I found out UT had their own rendition called VOLbreaks, and made plans to participate in the Spring! But they also offer VOLbreaktrips in the fall.  And just for some clarification, an alternative spring break is a program any student can go on where they go to another city and participate in community service based on a certain social issues.  You choose which social issue you want to focus on, and then the city is revealed later so people don’t choose based just on a city. The University of Tennessee currently has nine different issues to focus on and we go to cities such as New Orleans or Washington D.C., but I got the opportunity to go to the Windy City!”

What interested you the most about the trip?

“I became particularly interested in the topic of Wealth Distribution after I read a book that I chose off Bill Gate’s 2017 reading list. The book was called “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by sociologist Matthew Desmond.  The book gives an inside perspective of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s poor renting market.  To echo Bill Gate’s recommendation of the book, it opened my eyes to a subject that I otherwise would not be aware of because I have not experienced.  Much like Matthew Desmond, I wanted to get an inside perspective of wealth inequality in a big American city to see how I can address the issue in my own life and community.”

What was your strongest emotion you experienced?

“Definitely the strongest emotion I felt during the trip was gratefulness for my own life and privilege.  While I have not had a perfect life, I am able-bodied, am attending a great university, and do not face insecurity or homelessness.  It made me realize that many of the things I take advantage of are worries for many other families.  It made me want to contribute as much as I can so others can have a better chance in life.”

How has the trip changed or cemented your opinion on the subject of income disparity?

“My opinions about income disparity is about the same after the trip, but my knowledge on the subject has been significantly enhanced.  Usually what comes to mind to most people that affects income disparity is homelessness or perhaps parents.  But there are countless other factors such as education, food insecurity, learning or physical disabilities, access to medical care, geography, and racism. I saw first hand each of those different factors and how the community partners in Chicago are address them, but of course more could always
be done.”

Will you do another alternative spring break?

“I do plan on participating on another alternative break trip!  My absolute favorite opportunity at college is hearing so many different perspectives, so I will try to learn about another issue I want to learn more about next time, possibly even lead a trip for others!”

Why should someone else take an alternative spring break?

“I highly recommend that everyone who has the opportunity to participate in an alternative break takes it.  Do not let your lack of knowledge about a topic discourage you; education for the participants and service to the community go hand in hand on each trip.  You would learn so much and be equipped with all the right tools to go back to your own community to address a myriad of issues, and may even find a hidden passion.  I definitely learned more than just wealth distribution on the trip I went on.”

What backgrounds did your colleagues come from that accompanied you to Chicago?

“I went to Chicago with nine other participants.  There were two trip leaders, both sophomores, and a “learning partner” who is a graduate student. Everyone else on the trip was either a freshman, sophomore, or junior, with majors ranging from neuroscience to English to political science.  Everyone had varying amounts of knowledge and experience of wealth distribution.”

You always hear about Chicago weather, so how was your weather?

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be! It definitely lived up to its name of “The Windy City” a few times, but overall I was pleasantly surprised.   Everyone in Chicago was more than happy to tell us all the amazing things about Chicago, including how their summers are the BEST so I think I will have to make an independent trip by myself soon!”

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