This year, students could choose from two trips: one to Chicago to explore the nonprofit world and learn about leadership and service, and the other to Black Mountain, NC, to help with healthy food initiatives for low-income rural populations. Both trips are just five days, but will provide countless benefits to the students and the communities students will work. Students will blog for UofL Today throughout their trip – discussing the activities they participate in and reflecting on the learning experience. Check back daily for their latest updates.


(Note: Newest blog posts first.)

Black Mountain Reflections

Last week, I went on a life-changing trip to Black Mountain, NC. I have never really done anything like this before, and the only thing I can compare it to was the trip I took with my church eight years ago to pass out food and “minister” to low-income people in Washington, D.C. However, this trip had nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with coming together for the common good. I don’t know if it will be possible to express what an inspirational few days that was. I think it had a lot to do with the inspirational people I went with. Seriously, the caliber of individuals that accompanied me on this journey was extremely high. The awesome thing about this group is that everyone was so unique, so different, and yet we had such strong-running commonalities. We got along easily, we laughed and danced and had such a blast being silly. The reason that I am so impressed by my fellow ASBers, however, is not that we could all mesh well. It is the fact that we are leaders, and I truly believe every single one of us is going to change something about this world. We had so many thought-provoking conversations (yes, on Spring Break!), and we talked about issues that we all strongly care about. At the end of the trip, we were all friends and exchanged phone numbers. Each of us went on this trip because we wanted to do something fun and helpful. I don’t think anyone, except for Ryan who went last year, expected it to be that great. I will not lie, we worked, and we worked hard. Those of us who were rather out of shape were hurting by the end of the week (aka, me). But it was the kind of work that builds character, and we got to do it with a backdrop of beautiful mountains and big blue sky.  Every day when we got to our destination, I would look all around me and take in such beauty that I could not help but smile. There is something about doing service that makes your world grow a little bigger, and puts things into perspective. The world is connected, and if more people would just realize that we would have no need for volunteers. The people we worked with in the communities were so grateful for our help, and we got to see how much can be accomplished with a few sets of hands and a lot of teamwork. We met people from the area that are changing their communities and, in some cases, the world. We got to see that all it takes is a good idea, however abstract it is, to make change happen.  And make change we will.

Meagan Stites

Senior Communications Major, French and Race/Gender Studies minors

Owensboro, KY

Digging in Burnsville, N.C.

Today was awesome! In the morning we went to another community garden, this time an hour away from Black Mountain in Burnsville, NC. The landscape alone was worth the work. It was like being in the middle of a Bob Ross painting with huge rolling hills, mountains, and happy trees. The Yancey Community Garden is run by wonderful, inviting people who even had lunch catered for us. We worked until the early afternoon, and then went with John, one of the gardeners, to his house nearby. He and his wife, Lisa, are the founders of an amazing non-profit called Empty Bowls. It is an initiative to raise awareness and money for hunger. They are potters who make up a bunch of clay bowls, invite community members to a dinner where they talk about hunger issues in the community, and then ask people to give money if they can. In the end, the attendees get to keep their bowls as a reminder of just how many empty bowls are in the community and in the world. They started the project 21 years ago, and have seen it grow across the United States and expand into fourteen countries worldwide.  They are truly amazing people. Anyone can start this project, and they require no application process or paperwork. They just ask that the money is reinvested into the community where the project is held. They then gave us a workshop in bookmaking, and we each got to create our own journals. We picked the paper, bound the book, and made a cover. We then personalized our covers with scraps of beautiful paper, markers, and thread. These people are artisans, and use their art to spread a lot of good throughout the world. At the end of the day, they talked to us about how art can make huge changes in the realm of social justice. Art makes a statement, promotes discussion, and can raise awareness about a major issue in a memorable way. Today was truly a rewarding day, full of hard work, art, and inspiration. 

-Meagan Stites

Senior communications major, French & race/gender studies minors


Exploring Chicago

Today began the community service/non profit component of our alternative spring break trip. Our group split up to form two groups that traveled to Ronald McDonald Houses in North and South Chicago. Those of us who opted to serve in South Chicago had the interesting experience of driving by President Obama’s Chicago home, but I think both groups had a great experience learning about the Ronald McDonald Foundation and those who work hard to support it.

My group in North Chicago had a great time cooking baked spaghetti, which we prepared for guests of the House – parents of severely ill, hospitalized children being treated at local hospitals. In particular, I found it fulfilling to prepare a meal for the families, including siblings as young as infants, and allow them more time to spend at the hospital with their sick children. Cooking may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the Director of Resident Housing was really able to put her experience working there in a perspective through which we could relate. We were able to initiate a conversation about her leadership strengths and how those have enabled her to succeed in nonprofit work. I believe that each of us took something away from how she spoke about her passion today.

Following our morning of service, the groups reunited and explored Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that we did not have to pay a dime to enter, since the Zoo is endowed and financially supported by dedicated donors. In reflecting on this “free” zoo, we all saw the cultural and societal value the zoo adds to the city of Chicago. Personally, the experience showed me the extent of what a city can accomplish for the sake of the community if it only establishes a goal and finds the appropriate people to accomplish it.

We were later allowed to find dinner on our own, so myself and some friends started walking down Michigan Avenue in search of something truly Chicago, but affordable, to eat. We stumbled upon a small Italian restaurant named Pizano’s, where we enjoyed not only a meal but also a great atmosphere. Our waiter called himself “Chach” and was very interested to hear about life in Louisville, including Churchill Downs and the mint julep. After treating us to a free dessert, Chach’s only request was a Louisville t-shirt that he could keep to remember our meeting.

Two days in, Chicago has already presented great opportunity for learning about all the various interests held by the students participating in this trip. Tomorrow will include more community service through a Chicago chuch, as well as more sight seeing in the heart of Chicago. Despite our tired feet, I would argue that we are ready to go!

– Carrie Mattingly, sophomore

Teaching, Welcoming and Gardening in Black Mountain, N.C.

What a great day! We got to start the morning off by talking to groups of kindergarteners at the Black Mountain Primary School about seeds, bugs, and gardening. They were adorable, and I think they had a blast! We read books, identified bugs, and even had each of them start a bean plant. They asked some interesting questions, and told some interesting stories, but I think they really learned too. For a few moments we even diverged to talking about ninjas and their disguises when we were discussing the disguises of the Io Moth. Luckily, I have a love for ninjas so it was easy to bring the conversation back on track. We left there to go to the Welcome Table, a great project that provides a meal to people of all incomes for whatever money they have to give. The wonderful thing about the Welcome Table is that homeless people can sit and eat a meal with affluent people, which really brings the community together. A lot of the food is donated by the gardeners at Black Mountain Community Garden, so our activities on this trip have really come full circle. We served the food to the locals (I was on sour cream and butter duty for the baked potatoes) and then got to sit down and have a delicious meal ourselves. After all of that, we got to visit Black Mountain Elementary school where we worked on preparing their beds for this summer’s garden. I have to say, this trip has been amazing. I am tired and sore, but have such a better sense of food justice initiatives and community gardening. The people on this trip with me, all eight of them, are awesome people. We have had so much fun working as a team, laughing and being silly all the while. We have a lot of common interests, and have had some really intelligent, (and some really hilarious) conversations. I think we are going into Asheville tonight for a concert, as it is our last night here.  I am going to be sad to leave North Carolina. I think I am going to have to move to the mountains soon.  

Meagan Stites

Senior communications major, French & race/gender studies minors


Chicago – Night 2 in the Haunted Hotel

My second day in Chicago was marked by service at Ronald McDonald House, reuniting with an old friend, the zoo, a trip to President Obama’s house, and the terror of temporarily residing in a haunted hotel. .

Today was our first day of service to the Chicago community. Our group split into two in order that both groups head to Ronald McDonald House, one on the North End and one on the South End. My group went to the South end. This was supposedly the lower income end of Chicago so I was very interested to see what the trip had in store for me. The Ronald McDonald House was nothing like what I had expected. It was a beautiful home with a wrap-around porch and lots of cozy couches. The volunteer and manager of the house were very accommodating and the passion they felt towards the House and the families who stayed there was very obvious. We prepared a lunch of spaghetti, salad, and fruit cocktail for the families. After lunch we tended to the front landscape by weeding the front garden. I loved learning about the mission of Ronald McDonald as well as their continued efforts to expand on all the Ronald McDonald Houses in Chicago.

Another really great thing that happened in that I got to reunite with an old high school friend. Sarah was one of my best friends in high school and attends college at the University of Chicago. It turned out that the Ronald McDonald House was on University of Chicago’s campus so I got to make a brief visit with her at lunchtime. She showed me campus and took me to lunch at Medici’s, a local restaurant that is President Obama’s favorite. Did I mention that President Obama is from the Hyde Park neighborhood (the neighborhood we were in today)? On our way back to the city we attempted to drive past the President’s home but the street was blocked off and guarded by the Secret Service. They flashed their lights at us when we stopped to take pictures. Still it was amazing thinking that Obama inhabited the same streets we toured.

Although the Ronald McDonald House was the first nonprofit we visited today, we also visited the Chicago Zoo. This is a free zoo in the middle of the city. I’m used to zoos costing tons of money so the idea of a zoo you just walk into was wonderful. The zoo contained so many different animals. My favorites were the rhinos, the sea otter, and the giraffe. I think the best part was witnessing the diversity of people in the park. Because the zoo was affordable, people from all walks of life came to visit. I love the idea of brining the best of the city to all people so this is definitely an idea I will take back to Louisville in some respect.

BY THE WAY OUR HOTEL IS HAUNTED. We are staying at the Congress Hotel, the oldest hotel in Chicago. Apparently there are lots of reports of ghosts and unexplained happenings. A few people in our group set out on an adventure to the most haunted room, 441. Unfortunately their mission was infiltrated by a security guard and was therefore unsuccessful. A couple of people on our hall witnessed strange noises and creepy hallways. Will the Chicago ASB group see a ghost? Stay tuned.

-Megan Good

Chicago Day 2

After having a restful night of sleep following a long and tiring day yesterday, everybody was wide awake in the morning ready to begin our day of service at the Ronald McDonald House.  The group split up, and half of us traveled to the RoRonaldnald McDonald House on north side of the city while the other half went to the south side of Chicago to the other house.  My group on the north side prepared a delectable lunch of baked spaghetti with bread.  Everybody pitched in and worked well together, committed to serving the families struggling through tough times as their children fight in the hospital. 

Once we had finished cooking the food, we were given a tour of the house by Cathy, the Director of Family Relations at the house.  The house was comprised of two buildings: the main building for families that had children in the hospital for short periods of time and the annexed building, which was added for families that would be at the hospital for extended periods of time.  Cathy then talked to us about her work in a non-profit organization.  She elaborated on her dedication to the families that she worked with, and that she worked not for the money to be made, but to serve the families for which she cared.  Her message rang true in my heart.  As an aspiring doctor, I have felt the call to serve those that cannot help themselves.  I felt an instant connection with Cathy’s ideals and principles as she does not work for herself, but for the betterment of those around her.  This week of service has only just begun, but already I can feel myself being pulled to a higher sense of obligation to those that need my help.

-Taylor Forns, sophomore

 Chi-Town Day One

We had an early start on the journey to the “windy city” but so Chicagofar it has been worthwhile. This, as well as many other students on the trip is my first time to the city of Chicago, Illinois. So far today we got the opportunity to meet an administrator from Roosevelt University here in Chicago where she (Jarquetta) just simply talked about her upbringing/experiences in the city, local social issues, as well as some city history. Having her come and talk to us was beneficial as a “foreigner” seeing as how I have very limited knowledge of the area.

Following our discussion with Jarquetta we headed over to the Navy Pier where we walked to get a better understanding of the downtown area. While on the pier I got the chance to ride the Ferris wheel, explore restaurants and exhibits, and take the Architectural Cruise Tour. I would have to say the tour was the highlight of my day. On the tour we traveled on the Chicago river that runs through the city while being exposed to various historical facts about architecture, economy, politics, etc all dealing with the city and its formation for the most part.

Thus far the trip has already been pretty fun and I am extremely excited to see what more the city has to offer.

D’Ante J. Tinson, sophomore

Black Mt Community Garden & Guacamole

We had a day full of gardening and team bonding. We split into groups of two and each took a project at Black Mountain’s community garden. I worked with Ryan on consolidating the compost,  and learned a lot about the layering of compost and getting the right nitrogen-carbon ratio. The garden has only become a realization in the past few years, and provides food to the community. People around the area rent plots for a cheap rate and can grow what they want in their space, but they must donate the first 10% of their yield. They give the food to the Welcome Table, which provides a free and fresh meal to anyone who wants to eat regardless of income. One really great thing about this garden is that it has inspired innovation and preservation in the surrounding area. Last year they put in a walking path, and now they are working on a medicinal plant trail. The trail will provide a safe habitat for many of the depleted plant species that are native to the area. The garden runs with the help of volunteers from college students to senior citizens. It really shows how community gardens bring people together for a common cause.  

We rewarded ourselves for all our hard work by making a delicious taco dinner. Beef tacos, beans, onions, tomatoes, queso, salsa, sour cream, chips, and a giant bowl of GUACAMOLE! It was, in a word, fantastic. I love cooking and eating with people that I like. I am starting to get to know everyone in the group, and I am truly enjoying everyone’s company. We are all very different people coming together for a common cause, kind of like the way a community garden works. 

Meagan Stites of Owensboro, Ky.

Senior communications major/ French and race/gender studies minors

Heading to Chicago

Over the past year as this trip has developed, it has turned into something very exciting for the other students and I that are going to Chicago.

The trip is something that will be fun and meaningful for our Spring Break this year. While the group of us discussed how excited we are to see the sites in The Windy City, we are also thrilled to be learning about and helping the non-profits in the Chicago area. As we prepare to visit places like Ronald McDonald House and the Art Institute of Chicago, I am really looking forward to learning about how non-profits work in our country. We often spend our time with these organizations as volunteer, but we never actually understand how non-profits work or thrive in the economy we have in our country today.  


Along with the learning experience about non-profit organizations, we will also be touring the city and seeing Chicago. We are all looking forward to visiting Navy Pier, the Shedd Aquarium, and Chicago theatre.  It is hard not to look forward to the leaving Monday morning, even if it is very early.

Elizabeth Delaney, sophomore


Over the past year as this trip has developed, it has turned into something very exciting for the other students and I that are going to Chicago.

The trip is something that will be fun and meaningful for our Spring Break this year. While the group of us discussed how excited we are to see the sites in The Windy City, we are also thrilled to be learning about and helping the non-profits in the Chicago area. As we prepare to visit places like Ronald McDonald House and the Art Institute of Chicago, I am really looking forward to learning about how non-profits work in our country. We often spend our time with these organizations as volunteer, but we never actually understand how non-profits work or thrive in the economy we have in our country today.  


Along with the learning experience about non-profit organizations, we will also be touring the city and seeing Chicago. We are all looking forward to visiting Navy Pier, the Shedd Aquarium, and Chicago theatre.  It is hard not to look forward to the leaving Monday morning, even if it is very early.

Elizabeth Delaney, sophomore



Preparing for Black Mountain, NC

Over the past month or so, our group has learned a lot about gardening, healthy food initiatives and rural poverty. We are reading a great book called “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver to supplement our trip. In the book, Kingsolver and her family set out on a yearlong quest of only eating food grown in their county in Virginia (where they had recently moved from Arizona).

It really makes you think about exactly where your food is coming from, when it was produced or harvested and how it gets to the supermarket. Fruits and vegetables were not always available year-round. Humans in our climate didn’t used to eat tomatoes in the dead of winter and apples in March. Now, however, you can get anything you want, any time of year. The book presents the idea of slow food, or food that doesn’t have to travel far to get to you. People who eat this way are called locavores, and I have to say, the lifestyle doesn’t sound bad. Locavores do not get to eat watermelon in January (if they live in our climate zone at least), but they do get the freshest possible food and also help out their local economy. Eating food out of season is only part of the problem, along with the amount of miles traveled and the amount of oil used so that you could have that tangerine in Kentucky in November. Buying food out of season doesn’t give money to farmers in your state or even the state next to you. More often than not, it gives a few cents to the farmer in Brazil and puts the rest in the pocket of the food corporation and in the gas tank of the diesel truck that brought it to a supermarket near you. I originally signed up for this trip because I would get to help out a community while spending time away from the city, in the mountains. (Sounds awesome, right?) I have a feeling, though, that this trip is going to benefit me more than I had anticipated.  I am getting really excited for Sunday!

Meagan Stites, Owensboro senior

Communications major, French and race/gender studies minors


Brandy Warren
Brandy Warren is coordinator for marketing and communications in UofL’s Office of Communications and Marketing, where she manages special events and promotes UofL’s Division of Student Affairs. She previously worked at daily newspapers in Kentucky and Alabama.