Better Than a Week at The Beach

By Marcia Faye

“ASB has been a part of IIT in some form or another for many years and has grown to become one of the most popular service-learning opportunities on this campus.”

For Utsav Gandhi (EMGT ’14) and 24 other IIT students, “a little house somewhere in the innards of mountain country in wild and wonderful West Virginia” won out over such cities as Las Vegas, Miami, and Cancun as the getaway destination for spring break this year. Then again, this wasn’t traditional spring break but Alternative Spring Break (ASB), an annual student-led, team-building, community-service project that strives to raise awareness about such issues as homelessness, poverty, and social injustice.

IIT’s nonprofit partner in the ASB experience is Habitat for Humanity, an international organization that provides affordable housing through largely volunteer efforts. IIT ASB 2014, held March 15–22, took participants to Pendleton County, W. Va., where they worked alongside two other university teams to construct an addition onto the home of a widower and his two young sons.

IIT students worked to build an extension onto a family’s home during the week.

“ASB has been a part of IIT in some form or another for many years and has grown to become one of the most popular service-learning opportunities on this campus,” says Lynne Meyer, director of the IIT Office of Spiritual Life and Service Learning. “It allows students and the staff who travel with them to give back to the community in a direct, hands-on manner. The reward is immediate and, for the vast majority of participants, intensely emotional. They get to know each other as real people, not statistics or stereotypes, and the effect is transformative for everyone involved.”

This year, more than 75 applicants applied for 25 slots, not including spaces for three staff members and one faculty member who also joined the group. After the team was selected in early fall, members began fundraising for the journey by sending personal solicitation letters and holding spaghetti dinners, food sales, and even celebrity pie throws, featuring such IIT celebrities as President John Anderson.

The students also made time on weekends to sightsee.

Gandhi, who served as team leader before graduating this May, says his four years volunteering with ASB and such community-service projects as the IIT Big Event have fueled his desire to work in the public-service sector and even pursue a Master of Public Administration degree in the future.

“West Virginia is a starkly, desolately, and hauntingly beautiful part of the country and its people so warm, friendly, and welcoming,” said Gandhi in the days following the group’s return to IIT Main Campus. “The mountains, rivers, and little towns as well as the hours we spent on the winding roads will stay in our memories—but so will the two little boys we were fortunate enough to serve. The look of joy on their faces as they saw our work in rendering their home more structurally safe and sound was worth all the effort, and so much more.”

Students interested in learning more about ASB 2015 can contact Alternative Spring Break officers at

Local ASB Only an “L” Ride Away

“This project shows both art and practicality, making it very good for our community.” Alderman Danny Solis of the 25th Ward

Nearly 640 miles from Pendleton County, the early spring day may have been chilly and the sky gray over 18th and Paulina streets on Chicago’s Southwest Side. But an array of handcrafted benches painted in festive colors warmed the hearts and enlivened the spirits of the crowd gathered there in Pilsen People Plaza. The outdoor furniture—which nearly a dozen IIT students constructed and erected—was the focus of the Alternative-Alternative Spring Break, a first-time local companion event to the traditional Alternative Spring Break. Hosted by Architecture for Humanity Chicago (AFHC) and the IIT Office of Spiritual Life and Service Learning, the project, held March 19–22, was the brainchild of designers Eric Koffler and Jameson Skaife, who won an AFHC Activate! competition with the dual intent of transforming the plaza and fostering relationships.

“The winners imagined benches and walls that would emphasize mural making,” says Betsy Williams, AFHC managing director and adjunct faculty member at IIT College of Architecture, noting that base colors for the furniture were selected to match murals decorating the outer walls of an adjacent building. “There are some true mural artists living in Pilsen, so there is definitely a relationship to the kind of piece being made here and the talents of the community.”

Alderman Danny Solis of the 25th Ward made a site visit to the plaza on March 22 to thank the IIT students for their efforts and to get a firsthand look at the painting.

“This project shows both art and practicality, making it very good for our community,” he said. “Anytime you can have positive activity within a community it helps in many ways—improves business, makes the neighborhood safer, and adds to the knowledge base. I’m very happy and grateful for this.” In a moment of serendipity, a group of 45 students from Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in town for a cultural tour of Pilsen chanced upon the painting party and surrounded the benches, picking up brushes and leaving a part of themselves in the very neighborhood they came to experience. “Our whole intent was to engage the community by having a revolving art canvas that brings everyone together,” said a smiling Koffler, looking at the plaza filled with impromptu painters. “Clearly, it’s already begun to do that.”

The Alternative-Alternative Spring Break was made possible by the generous support of partners Latent Design [principal Katherine Darnstadt (ARCH ’05)], The Resurrection Project, and the Chicago Department of Transportation Make Way For People initiative as well as funders Muller+Muller, Ltd. and Friedler Construction. Kaitlin Streyle (ARCH ’09) was AFHC project lead and Cody Fallico (ARCH 4th year) served as job captain.

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Architecture for Humanity Chicago: