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A Truly Transformational Experience: Detroit Edition

Faith & Service

A Truly Transformational Experience: Detroit Edition

This past spring break, I was lucky enough to go on an ABST. ABST stands for “Alternative Break Service Trips” that Gannon University has held for many years. These trips are meticulously planned beforehand in order to provide students with the best experiences possible in service and learning.

I chose to go on an ABST to Detroit because I wanted to go on a domestic ABST, and this trip was a cheaper option. While in Detroit, it was explained that we would be carrying out the service component of our trip through urban farming at a place named “Earthworks.” I expected to gain more knowledge on poverty stricken communities and the logistics behind farming in a city setting.

I had high hopes for this trip, but even my highest expectations were exceeded through this truly transformational experience.


I did not know my group very well beforehand. We had some short meetings before our trip allowing for me to learn everyone’s names and majors. I did however know names of most of the group as they are members through clubs such as Student Government Association. On this trip, I was able to connect with individual members of the group, as well as the holistic dynamic of our group. We stayed up past midnight every night talking, we laughed uncontrollably during meals, we jammed to our favorite songs in the van, and we made tough manual labor somehow enjoyable.


Once we arrived in Detroit, we went on a guided tour of downtown. The tour guide continually mentioned how although the city contained several abandoned buildings, overall it was on the upswing. There were several new restaurants and shops. The next day was our first full day in Detroit, which we spent going to mass, and visiting the Detroit historical museum. The church service was interesting in that it contained both elements of Baptist and Catholic traditions. The members of the congregation called themselves, “Charismatic Catholics” and were very welcoming to us. We ended up chatting with several of them for awhile afterwards.

As we dove head first into the week, we normally made our own breakfasts. However, one particular day we stopped at “On the Rise Bakery”. This bakery partners with the soup kitchen connected with Earthworks and provides jobs for individuals out of prison. From Monday to Friday, our group was at Earthworks Urban Farming sites from 9am-3pm. After breakfast, we started off the days with a variety of activities including cleaning up trash, filtering soil to make compost (a favorite activity among us), raking leaves, or organizing a greenhouse. When the weather did not permit us to go outside on Thursday, we stayed inside and were educated by the employees about Detroit and urban farming.

We ate lunch around 11:30am-12pm every day in the soup kitchen connected to Earthworks. Each day, we picked a different member of the group to travel with us to a table of people who came to the soup kitchen for lunch. Some of the people at the soup kitchen came everyday, while others were just passing through. Either way, we were able to learn a lot about people’s thoughts on Detroit, and about their everyday lives.

Some people were more willing to open up than others, but in the end I was surprised at how much people were willing to talk to us about. One individual that particularly stuck with me was a man experiencing homelessness. He explained that he felt as if he had no support system, and that through the circumstances of his life including foster care, loss of a parent and dropping out of high school to join the workforce led him up to this point of his life today. It was heartbreaking to hear his story, but I’m thankful that he is able to come to the soup kitchen and that he shared his story with us.

Although the majority of our days were spent at Earthworks, we were able to find time in the evenings to learn more about the city of Detroit. We visited both the Detroit historical and Motown Museums. In addition, we went to Belle Isle (and learned that Detroit natives pronounce it as one word, BelleIsle), ate at a Yemen restaurant, and visited a controversial outdoor art exhibit titled, “Heidelberg Project”. As a group, we made the spontaneous collective decision to visit the Father Solanus Guild, which contained a chapel and exhibits of information about the friar who is currently being considered for sainthood (we also decided to spontaneously get frozen yogurt later that evening). To learn more about other faith backgrounds, we visited a mosque where they were gracious enough to surprise us with dinner and teach us about their religion. Lastly, another evening activity that we attended was a Gannon alumni dinner in Troy, Michigan. The surprise snowstorm caused some of the alumni not to make it, but we were lucky enough to still receive their contact information. The alumni that did attend were Mary Klupp (class of ‘73) and her husband Fred Klupp, Tanya Postwaite (class of ‘08) and her husband David Postwaite (class of ‘09), and Peter Mulard (class of ‘16). I had the privilege of sitting next to Mary Klupp for most of the evening. Freeman hall is named after her father, and she knew Father Lubiak and the namesake of Nash Library as well. I loved listening to her story, as she was one of the first female students to attend Gannon University full time.

Overall, my experience in Detroit is one I will never forget. Between carrying out service, learning more about the city, and connecting with alumni, I was beyond blessed. Furthermore, our group dynamic was fantastic. By the end of the trip, we all became very close. This trip reminded me again why I love Gannon so much, because we’re a family and have so many possibilities ahead of us!

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