Hostelling: Serve Communities, Stay For Free

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Hostelling: Serve Communities, Stay For Free

contributed by Hostelling International

On a rainy Friday morning in February, 16 college students experienced breakfast at a hostel for the very first time.

Accompanied by three faculty advisors, this group from Alderson-Broaddus – an 800-person college in Phillippi, West Virginia – was about to head to the Salvation Army, where they would volunteer as part of their commitment to Hostelling International USA’s (HI USA) Great Hostel Give Back program.

This program, available in January and February, offers free overnights to groups of 8 or more in exchange for community service – and has helped broaden the world view for countless students like those at Alderson-Broaddus.

“At first I was skeptical of bringing this group to the hostel,” admits group leader Sarah Geist, an Americorp Vista representative stationed at the college. But this was a suggestion made by the Dean – who was reading Cosmopolitan magazine on the airplane and saw the write up – so she checked it out. “I saw pictures online and everything looked good, and I was happy to hear we would have two rooms all to ourselves,” she says.

The group drove five hours to the HI Washington DC hostel to volunteer at the Salvation Army’s Harbor Lighthouse, a rehabilitation center for addicts, many of whom are homeless. “Alderson-Broaddus is in a really small town that doesn’t have a homeless problem,” says Sarah. “But I think it’s really important for our students to get out of their comfort zone and open their eyes to real issues they’ve never had to deal with.” She also hoped they would enjoy seeing a new town and make some new friends, as the group was a mix of students from different social circles.

Upon arriving at the Harbor Lighthouse, the group was guided upstairs to a classroom, where recovering addicts often come to take classes in substance abuse, self-esteem, parenting, and a range of other topics. By the end of their three-hour service, the Harbor Lighthouse had a whole new set of classroom furniture and some much needed administrative organization.

The students also bonded as a team, heading back to the hostel together, with the majority staying together for lunch and exploring the city. By sharing a dorm room together, cooking meals together, and serving the community together, the once divided group built deep connections that lasted well beyond their service trip.

The HI Washington DC hostel also opened their eyes to cultures from around the world. An inviting social space by nature, these small town students got to meet people from all different corners of the world.  HI USA hostels are designed to break down cultural barriers and build tolerance, which is inevitable with an open mind and a friendly smile.

If you have a group you’d like to take on a trip with a purpose, check out www.hiusa.org/GHGB to learn more about how to receive free overnights in exchange for your service. It’s guaranteed to be a rewarding adventure for you, your students, and the communities you serve.

In all more than 230 individuals across 14 groups took part in the Great Hostel Give Back, sharing experiences similar to that of Alderson-Broaddus. Together, they helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people in need, and also walked away with a greater understanding and impression of hostelling than when they arrived.

Hostelling: Serve Communities, Stay For Free

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