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Rachael Mallerman ’13 and Hayley Sakwa ’14

Most college students find themselves at home on the couch or at the beach during spring break, but not Rachael Mallerman and Hayley Sakwa.  Rachael, a junior studying economics and PITE, and Hayley, a sophomore in organizational studies with a minor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies, decided to lead a group of students on a new alternative spring break program through Hillel, The Jewish Detroit Initiative.   During their week in the city they volunteered in elementary schools, heard many innovative speakers, and visited some of the exciting places Detroit has to offer.  However the most tangible of their work, is the refurbishing of an unused bowling alley in the basement of a church with the help of middle schoolers from the neighborhood.  They hope that this space will be used as a safe haven for these middle school students and their peers.   Their work from this past week and their plans to stay involved with the city will surely make an impact on the Detroit community, a city bursting with new ideas and young people hoping to bring it back to its glory days. It was too hard to choose only one of them to be our celebrity this week, so HerCampus is mixing it up a bit this week and doing a joint interview. 
 
HC: How did you get involved with the Jewish Detroit Initiative?
RM: I became involved with the Jewish Detroit Initiative through an opportunity presented through Hillel. I had experiences in Detroit over the previous summer and wanted a way to get more involved with the city in a meaningful way.
HS: Tilly Shames, the executive director of Hillel, and Ben Falik, the founder of Summer in the City, were working together to create Hillel’s first Alternative Spring Break to Detroit and asked me if I was interested in being a part of the planning and execution of the trip.
 
 
HC: Why did you choose to spend your spring break in Detroit?
RM: I chose to spend my spring break in Detroit because I wanted to use my time in a productive way. Growing up in Metro Detroit, the city had always been so close, but never a large part of my life. I used this opportunity to learn from Detroit and the community that we worked with.
HS: I was excited for the chance to explore social issues that had always intrigued me in a city that I always lived close to, but never really had any experiences in. I also wanted to spend my spring break doing something meaningful and fun, and meeting other UM students who were also interested in community service and social action.
 
 
HC:What is your favorite memory from the trip?
RM:On the last day of our bowling alley renovation project at the Latino Mission Society, we threw a bowling and ice cream party for all of the kids who we had been volunteering with all week. One of the students revealed to us that on the way to LMS, he had been walking with a group of students to attend a fight with another school. He decided to break away from the group and come hang out with our group at LMS. This was a transformative moment for me. Knowing that the space we had created was being used as a safe haven for children in the neighborhood was a very powerful thing.
HS: Every aspect of the trip was fun and meaningful, but I think my best memory of the trip was playing hockey with the other trip members at the Clark Park ice arena. Brad Snider, our trip leader, was able to get the park to stay open late for us and we had a great time racing, falling on our butts, and goofing off.
 
 
HC:  What made this experience meaningful to you?
RM: This experience was so meaningful because of all the children we got to work with and get to know. Seeing the same students every day in the classroom and Latino Mission Society allowed us to truly build connections with all of them. Working with and learning from the students in the community we visited allowed us to connect to the city and our work on a much more personal level.
HS: To me, this experience was meaningful because it complicated my understanding of what it means to volunteer and to work with others to create change. It also complicated my understanding of the city itself, and revealed so many aspects of the city that were new to me, both positive and negative. I learned a lot about how to be a conscious social activist and began to really love the city of Detroit in all its glory and hardships.
 
HC: How are you going to stay involved in Detroit now that you have returned to school?
RM: Returning to school after this experience, I hope to visit Detroit on a regular basis. Whether its visiting the kids we worked with or just going to hang out at new restaurants we discovered, I want to continue to expand on my connection with the city.
HS: Before the trip began, Rachael and I petitioned the Hillel governing board to make the Jewish-Detroit Initiative a full time student group at Hillel. I was happy to see that after the trip ended, every student who attended was willing and excited to continue our work of the past week by participating in this club. We talked about ways to stay involved by planning more trips into the city to see our new friends, experience downtown and other areas, and continue our volunteer experiences. Advocacy for the city of Detroit in Ann Arbor and in the metro-Detroit community is also a focus for our group.

Shira Moskowitz is a sophomore at the University of Michigan where she is studying Sociology with a minor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies. Outside of Her Campus, she performs with the Smile Bringer Singers, volunteers at Hillel and works as a tour guide for admitted students.
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