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 News

Engage Dallas completes Phase One of the Residential Commons Photo Project

Engage Dallas, in partnership with Residential Community Directors, is excited to announce the completion of Phase One of the Engage Dallas Photo Project.

The Engage Dallas Residential Commons Photo Project is an effort to regularly display photos of current students serving through Engage Dallas in the community, accompanied by information on each commons’ specific community-identified need. 

Engage Dallas Program Assistant Sophia Kang ‘27 worked closely with the RCDs to identify and select images of Engage Dallas volunteers to highlight the commitment to service in each Residential Commons to complete the project’s first phase. 

Engage Dallas Program Assistant Sophia Kang ’27. Photo Credit: Tulsi Ram Lohani

“Working on the project and highlighting my friends’ hard work and dedication to service through their commons was a fulfilling experience,” Kang said. “The partnership with the RCDs made this a special project.” 

Phase Two of the project will commence in the summer with refreshed images from spring Engage Dallas service events and the expansion of images in Cockrell-McIntosh, Morris-McGinnis, Loyd, and Virginia-Snider Commons.

Engage Dallas would like to thank and highlight SMU Photography and SMU Facilities for their partnership in making this project possible. 

Please contact if you have any images or suggestions for expanding student recognition of community service in our Residential Commons.

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.


CCPA 2375: Learning beyond the Hilltop – A Student’s Perspective

The Fall 2023 semester flew by instantly as I joined the Engage Dallas team as a Program Assistant and began my junior year at SMU. Through the Meadows School of the Arts Corporate Communications and Public Affairs (CCPA) 2375 – Communication Research & Analytics class, I could connect my course work with my service learning.

Alongside 30 classmates, we had a phenomenal opportunity to work with Engage Dallas community partner Dallas Furniture Bank (DFB) to conduct a case manager perception study on DFB programs. DFB provides furniture that meets the basic living needs of families and individuals transitioning from homelessness to others in need. Under the supervision of our professor, Assistant Provost Dr. Dustin Grabsch, and counsel of DFB Managers, our class conducted a mixed-methods research study, using interviews and statistical data to find common themes and areas of development for the furniture bank. Early in the research process, three classmates of mine, Gracie Holder, Addison Shaw, and Abby Walker, participated in #1Day4Dallas this year at the Dallas Furniture Bank, helping arrange furniture at their Carrollton warehouse. This gave us an opportunity to see the work of DFB first-hand.

#1Day4Dallas CCPA 2375 volunteers at DFB. Photo Credit: Gracie Holder
#1Day4Dallas CCPA 2375 volunteers at DFB. Photo Credit: Gracie Holder

Throughout the semester, we contacted case managers who partnered with the bank and received continuous feedback on our work. Our focus questions were:

  1. Describe the experience with Dallas Furniture Bank’s programs and services as perceived by partner agency case managers.
  2. What strengths and challenges do Dallas Furniture Bank partner agencies experience when rehousing their clients within the first year?

This four-month study concluded with a presentation in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center, where community stakeholders from Engage Dallas and Dallas Furniture Bank attended to hear from the class about our research findings. Recommendations included streamlining case management communication channels, areas for expansion, and ways for DFB to market its opportunities to college students.

This experience was rewarding in many ways, including having a product to give to a community organization to increase their abilities to better serve the Dallas community. Through research and comparison of programs in other metropolitan areas, we are lucky to have organizations like Dallas Furniture Bank who assist in providing necessary community resources. Alongside my fabulous grade and gratitude from DFB, I take away the reaffirmed importance of data-driven research and exploring new ways to do things.

Learning about community service in the classroom is an experience uniquely possible at SMU. Faculty and staff interested in working with Engage Dallas or our partners in their classrooms should visit or email us at You can also stay updated on Engage Dallas by subscribing to our blog.