Monday, April 29, 2013

A Different Break

Spring is here! And students all over the country are choosing to go on alternative break trips. A counter to more traditional spring or winter break trips, alternative breaks are centered around service. The trips often have a theme, usually a social issue like poverty or education, and the experience encourages participants to reflect, grow, and think critically.

Many of our VISTAs planned and executed Alternative Spring Breaks (ASBs) for their host campuses. This week we highlight a few of those trips! And if you are inspired reading about these experiences, plan to join NC Campus Compact's Alternative Service Experiences Institute on June 18-19 at High Point University.

LRU students prepare to paint.
For Ariel Mitchell, VISTA at Lenoir-Rhyne University, the Alternative Spring Break trip she planned and led was a departure from the norm. "We do not have a history of working with community partners in our community on Alternative Spring Breaks. Typically we go outside of the state to show students life in another community." This year, however, they formed a new relationship with Camp Dogwood, a local non-profit. Ariel tells the story of her alternative break experience:

"Camp Dogwood is a meeting and retreat center during the school year and a summer camp for the blind and visually impaired during the summer months. We took 16 students and 2 faculty members, Dr. Hank Weddington, and Dr. Kim Matthews, down to Camp Dogwood, located on Lake Norman, to do various service projects. With the guidance of the camp director, Susan King, the students painted screened-in porches, did some gardening at the front of the main office, and tightened screws on the bottom of chairs to make sure they were safe to sit in. The students stayed in the same quarters that any normal Camp Dogwood camper would stay in. They were even able to go out on Lake Norman in Dr. Matthews pontoon boat!

Overall there were about 4 screened in porches that were painted, about 500 chairs that were tightened for safe seating, and at least 20 flowers planted. Not only did the gardening students plant flowers, but they put down new wood edging for the gardens as well. By the end of the weekend the teaching fellows had made quite a visual change for the campus of Camp Dogwood. Even with all the hard work, the students still seemed relaxed by the beauty of Camp Dogwood. Sitting right on Lake Norman, there was a dock, a swimming area, birds, plants, and tress, that would take your breath away. Not to mention the beautiful weather that blessed the weekend with its presence. It was a wonderful weekend for service with a wonderful group of Lenoir-Rhyne students."

Mary Baldwin College VISTA, Leah Pallant, planned and led an ASB based around the issue of food insecurity. Leah and a dozen students wound their way through central Virginia and ventured north to Washington, D.C. They visited the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee University, prepared and served a meal at Martha's Table, visited a food co-op, volunteered at a food bank, and learned about urban gardening at Tricycle Gardens. Participants examined the relationship between poverty and food security and laid the foundation for a long-term relationship between Mary Baldwin students and the organizations they visited. Leah described students at Mary Baldwin as having an "exemplary drive, understanding, and hunger for knowledge."
Jeri poses with Dive Into Durham students.

Jeri Beckens, VISTA at Duke University, also led a local ASB experience called Dive Into Durham. The group of ten Duke students worked with local non-profit organizations including the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina where they bagged more than 2,100 meals. They also painted a conference room at the Community & Family Life Recreation Center at Lyon Park and prepared more than 200 meals at a homeless shelter. Over the course of the week the group logged more than 200 hours of service at seven different sites.

Wake Tech Community College VISTA, Jennifer Evans describes her ASB experience as being one she'll never forget. Jennifer tells her story best:

"Our Mission: Rebuild homes for people still affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Our Residence: Camp ReStore -- We were roughing it!
Our Partner: The St. Bernard Project

Jennifer Evans shows her AmeriCorps pride!
Six of us left on this journey together and we returned with shiny, new capacity-building skills, a new respect for the heart and courage of the people in New Orleans, and a greater understanding of exactly what AmeriCorps members can accomplish.

The St. Bernard Project restores homes and builds new homes to sell at a discounted price for people whose homes cannot be restored. We worked on a home that was going to be sold to a very worthy family. It was great to see that AmeriCorps members were in charge of the construction of the house! We bonded instantly and had lots of opportunities to discuss the different paths we have taken in AmeriCorps and how it's changed our lives for the better.

I am not the best painter in the world, but that was our charge for the week. We painted walls, borders, and ceilings. We learned to caulk and tape, and about the ins and outs of the business of building homes. We also spent a portion of a work day touring the levees and hearing stories from people who live directly across the street from them. We heard stories of husbands and wives who were separated for weeks and didn't know if their spouse was even alive and stories of people who climbed from their windows and hung onto whatever they could float on and the water took them to the roof of another house. We heard tales of recovery and the importance of our service in the recovery process.

We ended our week with a house-warming party for a woman who has been trying to rebuild her home since December 2005. Since 2005 she has been a victim of construction and insurance fraud twice and lost her husband while trying to rebuild their home themselves. But thanks to students, AmeriCorps members, and the St. Bernard project they got the job done!"