Principled leaders in action: Citadel cadets dedicate Thanksgiving furlough to volunteer work

By Cadet Vivienne Johnson, ’24

Over Thanksgiving furlough, nine Citadel cadets completed more than 300 hours of volunteer service with four community partners in the Asheville, North Carolina, area.

These cadets chose to not take a break from a challenging semester and instead chose to represent The Citadel and help members of the community who could use extra support this holiday season.

Alternative break has been a recurring option for cadets since the spring of 2022. These cadets were led by Mandy Mims, assistant director of service learning and community engagement at The Citadel’s Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics. Mims also assists with the Company Community Engagement Council, or CCEC, which helps spark a healthy competition between the cadet companies for most cumulative service hours.

“The alternative break program is one of my major responsibilities in my role at the Krause Center. Not to be cliché, but the first trip changed my life. We spend most of our life trying to find our calling or our purpose. I was able to build relationships with these cadets that continued after the trip. One cadet from the first trip became my intern and CCEC Vice Chair. She is presently the Newman’s Fellow for The Citadel. Another is presently the Rotaract President and CCEC Chair. Several of the cadets that went on the first trip have participated in other alternative break trips or participated in our summer program. I am very passionate about working with cadets and this program is my favorite part of my job,” said Mims. “Having these cadets go on these trips and taking them out of the campus environment allows them to share these experiences with their fellow cadets and the community. It’s about realizing that everyone is human.”

These cadets were kept busy during the week by preparing and serving more than 300 meals to veterans experiencing homelessness. The cadets processed and inspected more than seven pallets of beverages for Manna Food Bank. They painted four bathrooms and set up all interior and exterior Christmas decorations for the Black Mountain Children’s Home. The group made up at least 60% of the volunteer group responsible for directing traffic for the Turkey Trot 5K Run, which raised money for Manna Food Bank. These cadets interacted with the community experiencing homelessness and assisted with gathering their grocery orders with 12 Baskets.

Not only was this experience eye-opening, but it also gave many cadets lots of “firsts” — it was the first time hiking experience for seven out of the nine cadets and the first time one of the international students had ever seen a mountain in the United States.

Programs like this help continue The Citadel’s reputation for producing principled leaders, and programs like the ones provided through The Krause Center help show cadets that there are more ways to get involved in a community. According to Mims, the goal is to grow the program and create more opportunities for cadets to give back to community while further developing their character and servant leadership. The Citadel now offers this alternative break during the fall, winter and spring furloughs.

One participant, Cadet James Courtney, was interviewed after the trip and asked about his time and some of the experiences that he took away from his selfless service.

Why did you choose to give up your fall furlough to participate in this alternative break program?

I chose to spend my time away from the school doing community service because I felt that it was the right thing to do. If I have the opportunity and means to make someone else’s Thanksgiving better or even give them a little time to forget their worries and be happy, then I have to do it. Their happiness and well-being are infinitely more important than my desire to lay around at home for a week.

Where do you feel you made the most impact?

I believe we made the most impact at the Veterans Restoration Quarters, or VRQ, and the Black Mountain Children’s Home. While working at the VRQ, everyone was so grateful and happy to see us there, and if you said just the right thing you could see their day brighten up instantly. At the children’s home, there were several moments where the children saw us and went from just going about their day to running around and having fun with us. A whole group of them even joined Cadet Mesa and Cadet Huott in rolling down a hill just for the fun of it!

What are three things you learned while on the alternative break?

I believe I can speak for the group when I say that we learned how important it is to lend a hand whenever we can, and just how impactful us being there can be. We also learned how important it is to go into any volunteer work with an open mind. We’ve been taught by society to be cautious around those experiencing homelessness, but truly they are just people like you and me who were dealt a bad hand and all they need is a little help from us who can provide it.

Members of the Corps of Cadets went on fall furlough on Friday, Nov. 17. After returning, some cadets spoke about the event’s significance with Cadet Vivienne Johnson, the Regimental Public Affairs Officer for the South Carolina Corps of Cadets. Johnson, who is from Helena, Montana, is a Biology major and Education minor. When she graduates, she will be pursuing a career with the federal government in Virginia.