Alternative Spring Break Event MHPS Commons Reflections Service Trip

An Alternative Break Reflection

This past March I, along with a staff advisor (Brandon Kitchin), and four other SMU students (Ava, Liah, Ben, and Tommy), embarked on an Alternative Breaks trip.

Alternative Breaks offers students a chance to go on issue-specific trips during spring break. Our trip focused on the issue of Immigration and Refugee Support, which is also the Engage Dallas community-identified need for MHPS Commons. When I heard about this trip, as the MHPS Commons Engage Dallas Student Director, I instantly became interested in leading it!

Our trip’s destination was San Benito, Texas, located in the Rio Grande Valley. Throughout our 5 days there, we were graciously hosted by La Posada Providencia, a long-term shelter for immigrant and refugee newcomers who seek to settle in the United States. La Posada provides clients (what residents are referred to as) with the time and resources to become self-sustaining by, for example, helping them obtain work permits and understand the use of U.S. currency by teaching them English. Residents of La Posada receive accommodation and three meals a day, funded entirely by donations.

Over the next two days, we helped the La Posada shelter with projects around the property. During that day, we had the chance to interact with some of the shelter’s clients who mostly were from Spanish speaking countries. Fortunately, we had Spanish speakers in our group. Interestingly throughout our trip, we shared lunch and dinner with the clients and met others from countries such as Afghanistan and Haiti.

On March 12th, we traveled to McAllen, Texas to assist with the Humanitarian Respite Center. The center serves as a short-term shelter. We were unable to take pictures in the center for privacy concerns but one of the major takeaways we had was that the center would be unable to function properly without volunteers and that the full-time staff were regularly overwhelmed. During our time there we engaged in laundry duty, help desk duty, and children’s programming.

For our next and final day of service, we lent a hand at the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank with other first-time volunteers.

We were able to package 1,248 boxes (37k pounds) of food in the span of a few hours, breaking a record for the facility!

This became a full circle moment when we learned that La Posada is one of the non-profits that the food bank serves.

Later that day we took some time to relax by making our way to South Padre Island to rest and enjoy some great seafood on the beach.

We returned to Dallas the next day with a complete shift in our perspectives on the issue of Immigration and Refugee Support and how important our roles as volunteers are. By taking the time to help non-profits you can really make a difference and directly or indirectly change a day in someone’s life whether it be sorting clothing donations or packaging food!

Event News

One Night for Dallas 2024 highlights campus and community leaders

Community partners and campus leaders gathered at the Moody Graduate School on April 9th for the 3rd Annual One Night for Dallas reception, celebrating the impact of community engagement on the Hilltop. 

Dr. Toni Harrison-Kelly and Willie Baronet. Photo Credit: SMU

This year’s theme was “Dallas is Home,” and keynote addresses were delivered by the Executive Director of the Budd Center, Dr. Toni Harrison-Kelly, and SMU Professor in Creative Advertising Willie Baronet. Baronet also serves as the Armstrong Faculty-in-Residence and creator of the We Are All Homeless Project.

One Night for Dallas was also an opportunity for campus and community partners to hear from our Student Directors and why they participate in Engage Dallas. For Loyd Commons Student Director Kate Alonzo ‘26, her ”why” is personal.

Engage Dallas Student Director Kate Alonzo ’26. Photo Credit: SMU

“We can look at community service as serving the community. But South Dallas is not just a community, it’s my community,” Alonzo said. “Engage Dallas enables me to serve my own hometown, and I’m proud of that.”

The annual celebration is a joint effort between Engage Dallas and the Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement (SCIE), reflecting upon the collective impact that SMU students have had on the community during the academic year. Engage Dallas was proud to highlight that 571 students collectively spent 1,378 hours directly serving the community across 41 student-led service events during the 2023-24 academic school year.

Danielle Palomo, Coordinator for Community Engagement. Photo Credit: SMU

Danielle Palomo, Coordinator for Community Engagement, reflected on the work of SCIE community engagement student organizations.

“Reflecting on Alternative Breaks, one student said, ‘It was a valuable experience and something I’ll never forget. I was able to form relationships and help people start a new life here which was amazing.,’” Palomo shared. ” I could not be prouder of our students and looks forward to all the work they continue to do to serve their city.”

The night ended with remarks from Engage Dallas Initiative Manager Audryanna Reed and the presentation of campus and community-nominated awards.  Award Recipients are as follows:

Outstanding Community Partner

  • Dallas Furniture Bank
  • Jubilee Park and Community Center

Do Good for Dallas Award 

  • Emmanuel Garcia
  • Lourdes Randle

Outstanding Student Leader

  • Hannah Green, MHPS Commons

Outstanding Student Director

  • Miles Chen, Kathy Crow Commons

Outstanding Faculty and Staff

  • Laura Robinson Doyle, Department of Applied Physiology and Sport Management
Award Recipients. Photo Credit: SMU

Engage Dallas would like to thank the staff, faculty, students, and community partners again for their participation and support. We look forward to celebrating again on April 9, 2025!

Announcements Community Partners Event News

Engage Dallas Hosts 3rd Community Partner Council Meeting

Engage Dallas kicked off the 3rd quarter Community Partner Council meeting on February 9 at Austin Street Center. Organizations represented include Sunny South Community Garden, Keep Dallas Beautiful, LNESC, The Senior Source, Dallas Furniture Bank, Brother Bill’s Helping Hands, Jubilee Park & Community Center, and Austin Street Center. Community partners offered feedback on upcoming Engage Dallas events to ensure that they are community-centered and a value-add to all attendees.

The group learned about non-profit leadership and collaboration from Austin Street Center’s CEO, Daniel Roby. Roby also shared about the ways that Austin Street Center supports those experiencing homelessness. The day was completed with a tour of the newly opened center where community partners explored the commercial kitchen, donation drop-off process, dining facility & engagement center, and more. Community partners also learned about the many volunteer opportunities at Austin Street Center. Huge thanks to Jill Young, Volunteer & Community Engagement Manager, for coordinating the visit. Learn more about Austin Street Center here.

Announcements Event

Engage Dallas Book Club Starting this Spring

Join us this spring as we launch the Engage Dallas book club. We will be reading and discussing Paved a Way by Collin Yarbrough. This book takes a deeper look at the influence of and injustices caused by the way the city of Dallas was built and developed, and the implications this has across the country.

The bookclub will be virtual, and will be held on the last Friday of each month, February through May, from 10:30am-12:30pm. The first twenty people to sign up will receive a complimentary copy of the book.

This is an opportunity to gather with others who are working toward successful community engagement and to improve the city of Dallas, and to continue the conversations that began at Engage Dallas’ Place-Based Community Engagement Symposium in November.

Click here for more information and to sign up to join us for the Engage Dallas book club.

We would also like to invite you to save the date for the 3rd Annual Place-Based Community Engagement Symposium, happening on October 3-4, 2024.

Announcements Event News

2nd Annual Place-Based Community Engagement Symposium a success

The 2nd Annual Place-based Community Engagement Symposium was a success last week. Participants engaged around the theme of “Listening, Learning, and Leading: A Place-based Approach to Promoting Public Responsibility and Community Engagement in a COVID-impacted World.” 114 registered for the two-day symposium.

The conference planning committee chose this theme due to their observation of the challenges posed by COVID-19; our community engagement landscape has evolved significantly, from decreased volunteer participation to heightened community needs.

Conference registrants helped shape this year’s symposium. The planning committee had over 60 questions submitted for our opening session and panel discussion. Plus, questions were arranged as discussion topics at the networking event on Thursday evening.

Audryanna Reed, Associate Director for High-Impact Practices, Co-initiative Manager of Engage Dallas, and Chair of the conference planning committee, shared, “Engage Dallas is grateful for the opportunity to bring together non-profit and civic leaders in Dallas as well as staff and faculty across SMU and Dallas College. Such inspiring words, cultural context, and critical challenges posed by our keynotes Latosha Bruff and Jerry L. Hawkins, M.Ed., as well as our panelists and workshop hosts!”

A copy of the program booklet is included below.

Reed and the conference planning committee are underway with year three planning. Building off the dialogue from this year’s conference, the theme will likely incorporate the concept of “under-championed communities,” which was prevalent in this year’s sessions. Reed says to expect a save the date soon for the November 2024 symposium.

This Engage Dallas symposium collaborated with Residence Life & Student Housing, The Budd CenterThe Office of General Education, the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, and The Center for Teaching Excellence.