Alternative winter break trip to western Kentucky hosts 10 Rutgers-Newark students

A group of students from Rutgers-Newark spent winter break helping to improve lives for communities in need in Portland, Kentucky, located in the western Louisville area.

They worked on programs to address language barriers and food insecurity and offered to tutor and mentor at-risk teens. The Rutgers students also ran sports drills and helped with math and English homework.

“As my first service trip, I did not know what to expect from the whole experience, but once I was on the ground doing work side-by-side with the others, I remembered this was not only an opportunity to serve a community in need but to learn about the people there and bond with them, too,” says Rakesh Manghani, a senior at Rutgers-Newark who went on the trip.

The five-day trip, put together by the Office of Student Life and Leadership (OSLL), allowed students to work with three local organizations on various service projects. The group was also accompanied by Sgt. Todd Housell, an officer with the Newark branch of the Rutgers University Police Department.

Rakesh Manghani and Izzy Mir cutting wood
Student Rakesh Manghani (l) and OSLL program coordinator Izzy Mir (r) working on a reconstruction project
Courtesy of Izzy Mir

“I definitely wanted to do something different, something that got our students in a different area, different mindset and, of course, help those who are in need and really need the extra help,” says Izzy Mir, program coordinator at OSLL, who organized and led the trip. “Reflecting on service trips done in the past by family members, they always expressed the greater level of need in the southern portion of the country, so when I thought about where to start my search, I looked there.”

That search led Mir to Hand in Hand Ministries, a nonprofit organization based in the western Louisville area, whose mission is to work hand in hand with individuals and communities to transform lives by responding to expressed needs through cultural immersion, education, housing and health care. Volunteer work included demolition and reconstruction, as well as community and youth outreach.

Rutgers-Newark students reinforcing a shed in Kentucky
Rutgers-Newark students working on reinforcing the structure of a shed
Courtesy of Izzy Mir

Rutgers students first worked with the Catholic Charities of Louisville, Inc., an organization that serves people in need, with a wide range of outreaches that assist neighbors of all races, backgrounds and beliefs. The Language Services department works with the Limited English Proficiency population, where students helped immigrants from Africa and Central and South America practice their English. Their Sister Visitor Center is an emergency assistance program that provides the most basic of human needs, such as food and financial assistance, to Louisville residents, where students bagged and handed out food to those in need.

“My favorite part was building the shed because I never thought I would use power tools or actually do something that was like construction work,” says T’Yonna Wyatt, a student on the service trip and a graduate assistant for OSLL. “I never would have pictured myself being comfortable with saws and drills, but it forced me out of my comfort zone and I was able to do something good with that new skill.”

stdents bagging personal care items at Hand in Hand for distribution
Students (l to r) Ryan Real, Safa Aamir, Angelica Castillo and Salma Abedullah bagging personal care items at Hand in Hand for distribution
Courtesy of Izzy Mir

The second site was the Delta Foundation, whose mission is to provide a mentorship program that specializes in helping at-risk young athletes obtain tools necessary to be successful academically, socially and athletically. The Rutgers students volunteered at their after-school program, connecting with local at-risk youth.

“This was a great opportunity to meet the students in an environment that was definitely outside my comfort zone,” says Manghani, who is also a student consultant for OSLL. “It did combat a lot of my biases. From the moment we stepped in, we had people just welcoming us.”

In addition to the service work, learning about life in another part of the country served as an impactful lesson.

“Seeing the camaraderie of our students and how well they represented not only themselves, but our state and especially Rutgers-Newark was one of my favorite parts,” says Mir. “Everywhere we went, anybody only had positive things to say about the students that we took on this trip, and I love being able to give back in that way.”