ASB 2022: A First-Years First and a Fourth-Years Last - Madison Lanai ‘25 & Miles Shen ‘21

Friday, April 1, 2022

What is ASB?

Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a Levine tradition. Each year, scholars are given the opportunity to engage in community service, learn about social justice, and bond across cohorts. This year, eight first-years and two fourth-years traveled four short hours to Charleston, South Carolina for a week of volunteerism. We partnered with Habitat for Humanity to assist in the construction of a house for a single mom and her son, who was born with ​​phocomelia (a condition in which one’s limbs are either missing or underdeveloped). Throughout the next six days, we learned new skills such as using power tools, sawing wood and cement, installing house siding, and holding ladders (an art we all seemed to master). We also explored the beautiful city of Charleston and educated ourselves about its heavy history. Not only did we leave having assisted a family in need, but also having grown closer together as a group of Levine Scholars.


Q1: Why ASB?


Like so many others, being virtual for over a year left me seeking connection. For me, ASB was an opportunity to return to my roots before leaving my Levine family to enter the real world. I had never been on the annual Levine ASB before, and as a senior, I thought, “Better late than never!” Normally, Alternative Spring Break is an intercohort occasion where scholars from across all four classes come together to volunteer, bond, and have a good time. Imagine my reaction when I discovered that it was going to be a group of first years and two fourth years. Jacob Snyder, the other fourth year, and I were outnumbered four to one! Although I was excited to meet the first-years, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of reluctance. I didn’t want to be one of those old seniors on the trip. After some entertaining icebreakers from NOLS and funny stories about living in Levine Hall, my hesitancy was replaced by familiarity. These were Levines through and through, and this trip was about to be an unforgettable experience.


I decided to go on ASB because I wanted to ensure that I was taking advantage of every opportunity available to me as a first-year scholar. I had heard about the various trips Levine students had gone on within the past years of the program, and I knew that I desired to be a part of as many of these exciting excursions as possible. Furthermore, I was thrilled that this trip was partnering with Habitat for Humanity, an organization whose goal is to promote dignity and hope while advocating for affordable housing. I had never volunteered with Habitat for Humanity prior to going to ASB, but I knew that going on this trip would be a great way to kickstart my journey of getting more involved in different forms of service. Lastly, I decided to go on ASB because I wanted to spend my spring break doing something for the community. Throughout the semester, it is often difficult for me to look outside of myself when I feel absorbed by academics, extracurriculars, and working. Therefore, I knew that spending a week focusing on others and taking a break from my normal routine would ultimately be the most beneficial thing I could do with my break. 


Q2: What did we do?


Alternative Spring Break is a service trip, so our time was mainly spent working on the Habitat build with some laughs and excursions in-between. I had worked with Habitat for Humanity previously, but working in the heart of Charleston's historic district and taking on large scale projects that took multiple days to complete made this experience one to remember. The heat of the sun, the mugginess of the air, and the low country living atmosphere tried to set the tone, but we were from Charlotte. We brought the hustle and bustle of the city with us, and I’m proud to say that we tackled each project with mettle and tenacity. Drilling, nailing, sledgehammering, and sawing were just a few of the things we got to do on the site. One of the biggest accomplishments for our team was installing the exterior siding and ornamental trim on parts of the house. Because the house was elevated about ten feet from the ground to abide by historic preservation regulations, there were two jobs when it came to putting up siding: ladder climber and ladder holder. If you ask anyone on the jobsite, they’ll tell you that I was the best ladder holder out there.


Other than working at the site, we were able to explore downtown Charleston and all it has to offer. Lucky for us, one of the scholars on the trip was from Charleston and gave us a fabulous tour of all the best sites in the city. We explored Joe Riley Waterfront Park (taking pictures with the elaborate pineapple fountain), Charleston City Market, The Battery, Folly Beach, The University of Charleston, and more. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and being able to walk downtown while gazing at all of Charleston’s breathtaking architecture was one of my favorite aspects of the trip. Additionally, some scholars decided to take on the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean while at the beach, running straight into the waves and laughing as they shivered from head to toe. On one of our last days in Charleston, we visited the Old Slave Mart Museum where we learned about the lamentable history of Charleston and the importance of advocation for human rights and social justice today. Although this outing was somber, it was a time to reflect upon the gravity of the city’s past and remind ourselves of the importance of education in fostering a better future for generations to come. 


Q3:  Memorable moments?


The entire ASB trip was a blast, but there’s one moment that stands out from the rest. One thing you should know about me is that I love food, and I was really looking forward to Charleston’s cuisine. Throughout our week with Habitat, an aroma from a nearby restaurant kept wafting into the site, and my cravings for some good ol’ fashion soul food were getting stronger by the day. It was our last day at the build, the smell of soul food was particularly strong, and I had yet to satisfy that craving. I needed it badly, but apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Dr. Z was on board too, and this was happening. Literally right next to the build site, there was a little shop on the corner of the street called East Side Soul Food. I got an order of fried fish and macaroni and cheese. There was so much anticipation for this meal that no one waited to eat. I got into our van, took my seat, and opened the Styrofoam container. After that, it was just me and the soul food. 



For me, the most memorable moment of ASB was spending a whole afternoon planting tulips at the habitat site. UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens donated over 100 bulbs of tulips to the habitat build, and the family was more than happy to accept the flowers as a gift. While I spent my day kneeling in dirt and digging 5-inch deep holes with a trowel before carefully placing each bulb in its own assigned plot of land, I began thinking about how wonderful it would be to see the flowers bloom this spring. Although I walked away without getting to see the fruits of my labor, I knew the beauty of these tulips would bring such joy to the family as the vibrant red and yellow flowers lit up their yard in the following months. Furthermore, getting to plant the tulips at the family’s new home made me feel as though we were truly able to leave a piece of UNC Charlotte behind in Charleston before we left. 


What are the takeaways?

ASB 2022 was a massive success. All who participated were able to engage in meaningful community service, explore the charming beauty of downtown Charleston, and grow closer together as a cohesive unit of scholars. If any future scholar is questioning whether they would like to go on future ASB trips, we would answer with a resounding YES! ASB personally transformed our perspectives on the remarkable impact of service and how simply looking outside of oneself can bring about joy and satisfaction. 

As a first-year, I (Madison) know that I will partake in future ASBs to come and will make it a priority to continue participating in the amazing opportunities the Levine Scholars Program offers to all its students. I am incredibly grateful to be a member of this special group of individuals and for the chance to get to know the fourth-year’s on the trip, Miles and Jacob, before they start their new post-grad lives next fall. As I learn and grow over the next three years at UNC Charlotte, it is encouraging to know that I can always rely on having a supportive Levine community by my side.

As a senior, I (Miles) am thankful I had the opportunity to participate in the Levine ASB for my final spring break. After experiencing four years of college, it’s easy to get transfixed on the future and growing up, always looking and preparing for the big ‘what’s next’. I thought that I would leave Charleston having imparted fourth-year wisdom onto the first years. Instead, they reminded me that I may be graduating, but I have many things left to learn, and that it is important to remember to take time to laugh, play, and enjoy the little things.