As a last hurrah with my university, after graduation last December I participated in an alternative break trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. Alternative breaks is a student-run organization through the Center for Leadership and Service. As a student participant, you can either be a part of the winter, spring, or summer break trips.
Each trip focuses on a different social cause- for instance, you can apply to be a part of an Animal Welfare trip, Homelessness, Community Affairs, Youth Development, and much more. These trips are a mix of both domestic and international destinations.
This was my first time being a part of aB, so I decided to join the hospitality trip. When you join, you have no idea where your group is going until the reveal in October. When we got Las Vegas, I was pretty happy. It’s any hospitality majors dream to be a part of the hustle and bustle of this city. Our social issue focus was Corporate Social Responsibility (basically, how for-profit businesses and large corporations contribute and give back to their communities).
I bet I already know what you’re thinking.
What kind of “community service” were we doing in Las Vegas? It’s okay, you can think that. (It’s also exactly what my parents thought when I told them of my new adventure). So allow me to enlighten you.
Las Vegas is much more than the strip of entertainment we see- what we don’t see (or choose not to) is the number of people living out on the street, many unsheltered as well. The region is actually #8 on the list of highest homeless populations in the nation, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. My group traveled to Las Vegas for 6 days to work with these organizations and learn from many executives within the hospitality industry:
Clean the World: This foundation collects and recycles used amenities (such as soaps and shampoos) from hotels and other sectors that discard these products. In doing this, they aim to distribute these products to those who don’t have access to basic hygiene and to prevent and reduce hygiene-related illnesses and deaths domestically and across impoverished nations. Clean the World has distributed over 41 million bars of soap in 118 countries. I had never heard of this organization prior to this trip, but I am so appreciative of this experience and to be able to have learned about their mission and operations.
NPHY- Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth: We also had the pleasure of volunteering at the NPHY drop-in center. NPHY’s vision is for “all homeless youth in Nevada to share the same opportunities for a quality future enjoyed by others in our community.”
With a goal to eliminate homelessness among youth, a range of programs and services are offered to contribute to a youth’s survival needs and development beyond a life on the streets. My aB group had a great time getting to know some of the local youth and connecting to their likes, and hearing about their dreams and aspirations. We prepared lunch- which was spaghetti, as well as chicken fettuccine. In this photo, I am holding a bag of chocolate chips, because of course, we had to make cookies! Next to me is Christine, our angel in the kitchen who luckily has a pastry background 🙂
Honestly, as someone who has been fortunate enough to have experienced frequent travels with family growing up, the hotels we stayed in were always the one thing I critiqued or praised. Well… much praise to the MGM properties we visited including the Aria, the Bellagio, and the Mirage. Not only to the beauty of the resorts but for their contributions to society in so many ways. We were able to learn from CSR and Sustainability executives about the company’s initiatives and practices in the industry. With such a high homeless population, MGM properties work with many organizations, one in particular called 3-Square that helps them rescue untouched and conservable food from major events or conventions. They are able to save tons (literally) of food per year by having a process in place such as this. We even learned that they go as far as conserving their oyster shells- where they’ll be sent to a company on the Chesapeake Bay that grinds them into fine particles and redistributes it into the ocean. I mean, really? Amazing. As a recent graduate of the hospitality program at FIU, I really was overjoyed and amazed at the lengths many corporations in Vegas will go to in order to contribute and really make a difference in our world.
The way in which we live on a daily basis can say a lot about who we are as a person. When I really think of the “problems,” I think I have, I always take a step back because I know there is someone out there who has it worse. There is someone out there who is constantly worrying about shelter, food, and hygiene. This trip has further fueled my aspirations to make a difference- even the slightest, in any way that I can!
Thank you for reading!
Much love to my group for being awesome individuals who I am glad to have met and learned from along the way: Megan, Christine, Taisha, Veronica, and John!