Spring Break 2012 - Atlanta
Howard University > Alternative Spring Break 2013
Detroit Native Gives Back to the Motor City

By Naomi Venerable
Howard University News Service

Nia Cleage, freshman elementary education major helps a group of seventh and eighth grade students prepare for the 1st Annual Spelling Bee at Henry Ford Academy.

DETROIT (March 13, 2013)- Howard University freshman Nia Cleage spent spring break in her hometown. But, during the week, Cleage never made it home to see family and relatives.

There was no home cooking or hanging out with high school buddies. She came home with a purpose - to serve by mentoring and tutoring in high schools, working at the local Salvation Army, and working with preschoolers at a local Head Start program.

“I would much rather use my time to give back to my community than do nothing,” she said.
Cleage was one of 50 Howard University students who gave up their spring break to spend a week helping others in Detroit as part of the university’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.

As she rode on the charter bus passing through familiar Detroit streets with other student volunteers, Cleage reflected on her purpose for this week.

“We have driven by my house numerous times, but every time I leave a school in which we have served, I realize I don't need to go home,” she said. “I can go home anytime. But I will not always get the opportunity to work with kids and inspire them to reach beyond their situation.”

Cleage has a history of service in her hometown. Born and raised in Detroit, she has served and distributed food to families at her church's food pantry, volunteered in the church nursery and participated in city clean-up projects, like planting trees in vacant lots as a member of Leadership in the New Century at Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts.

As a clarinet player of the Howard University Showtime Band, Cleage was found with very little time during her first semester to participate in community service in Washington. Most of her schedule is dedicated to long band practice hours and homework.

But after hearing of ASB, she was eager to apply.

“When I heard of ASB, I thought it sounded like something I would like to do since I love doing community service work and would not have much planned for spring break,” she said.

The core mission of ASB Detroit is the problem of illiteracy in the city, which has been placed as the highest in any major city.
“My main purpose for this week is to show kids that you can rise out of your situation!” Cleage said.

Freshman Nia Cleage speaks with Sophomore Lena Austin to a group of fifth graders about college life at Howard University
Cleage had her first experience with illiteracy at her church, Shrine of the Black Madonna, in Midtown Detroit. She was in charge of the sign- up sheet for the food pantry.

"A lot of the people who came to the food pantry couldn't read or write,” she said. “When they were given an application to record their contact or background information, grown women and men would give me their driver's licenses along with their application and ask, 'Can you please fill this out for me?'

During the week in Detroit, Cleage spoke to three classrooms of middle school students at J.E. Clark Elementary, encouraging students to apply to college and giving them college readiness advice, including SAT preparation tips. She also discussed her experiences as a first-year student.

Being from Detroit, Cleage said she has insights about the students she spoke with.

“I know where these students come from,” she said. “Most of them are attending school in abandoned neighborhoods and that hurts.”

Elemenatery education minor, Nia Cleage assists children at Tabernacle Headstart during a week of service learning in Detroit, Michigan

She said she tried to leave them with a message.

“No matter what, I knew I would make it out of Detroit,” she said. “I want the kids to know that they might not have the same resources that I've had, but you can always make a way out of no way.”

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