Last week, as many HWS students fled the library, classrooms and textbooks for a week of rest and relaxation, four teams of HWS students and staff began to prepare for volunteer experiences. Taking part in a tradition known as Alternative Spring Break (ASB), one team ventured to Louisville, Kentucky to clean the Ohio River; another team traveled to Norlina, North Carolina to volunteer in a local elementary school; the third team did reconstruction work in New Orleans, Louisiana; the fourth flew to Ticuantepe, Nicaragua to build houses for local community members.
The 14 HWS students who traveled to Louisville were accompanied by Sarah Meyer, Finger Lakes Institute community outreach coordinator and program coordinator for community outreach for the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. The group was hosted by Living Lands and Waters, an environmental stewardship organization founded by Chad Pregracke. Pregracke spoke at HWS three years ago and Meyer has led an ASB trip to work with him on various projects along the Ohio River ever since.
On the way to Louisville, the group spent a night at the Malabar Farm Hostel in Lucas, Ohio. There, the students enjoyed the maple syrup festival- and cooking breakfast food for dinner. The next morning, they were off to Kentucky, where they traveled to shoreline sites along the river via boat and spent their days removing litter and debris, such as tires, refrigerators, Styrofoam pieces and thousands of plastic bottles from the shorelines.
While the bulk of their time was spent cleaning the shorelines, they had the opportunity to explore tourist attractions, such as the Louisville Slugger Museum and Churchill Downs, and ate dinner at local restaurants. The students also kept journals and participated in group reflections.
The ASB group who traveled to Norlina was comprised of six HWS students and their chaperone, AmeriCorps VISTA Holly Kahn. They spent the week volunteering as teachers’ aides in Mariam Boyd Elementary School. Each student was assigned a classroom from pre-K through fifth grade, working directly with students in the classroom and providing support for the teachers. As well as working during the school day, the HWS team collectively decided to volunteer at the afterschool program, which ran from 3 to 6 p.m. There, they worked with about 10 elementary students, helping them with homework and providing basic childcare to those whose parents had to work late.
Carolyn Pluchino ’10, who has gone on the trip in previous years said, “I hope that my presence has inspired them to continue with their education and give back to their own community.”
Not only did the HWS group get to interact with the students at school, but they were also given the chance to attend the countywide spelling bee, which included the four local elementary schools. “It was a unique experience to see how the community came together to support their students in their academic endeavors,” said Kahn.
The third Colleges ASB team spent the week working in New Orleans, volunteering at “The Village,” a place that will be used to teach local children about their heritage and cultural backgrounds. The team of seven HWS students and Residential Education Area Coordinator Marissa Miller completed various painting jobs, planted shrubs, made African dolls, designed umbrellas and reported on Louisiana history. They were given the opportunity to talk to local community members and stayed in a church that is under the leadership of The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. The team also spent a day working at a Community Center, where they created a baseball field. After work, they explored the city, visiting the famous Café du Monde and the French Quarter, riding a ferry, and eating dinner and listening to security guards speak of their Hurricane Katrina stories at Tulane University. Cole Judge ’05, who works at the Center for Hazard Assessment Response and Technology at the University of New Orleands, hosted the group for dinner.
“Among my favorite parts were getting to know the site directors and campus safety officers, cooking with the Chef where we stayed, and learning all the history from ‘The Village,'” said Miller.
The fourth HWS group, which included seven students and Program Coordinator at Intercultural Affairs Darline Polanco, traveled to Ticuantepe, a small community just outside Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The group participated in a project run by Bridges to Community, a non-profit organization created to help those living in marginalized conditions. The HWS students partnered with students from St. Thomas Aquinas College and built two cinderblock houses. The students experienced the local culture by eating traditionally-prepared foods, participating in nightly community activities, and through discussions with local leaders and community members. At the end of the work week, all of the students got together for a house dedication ceremony with the Bridges to Community staff members, building masons and the family beneficiaries of the houses that were built. After the dedications, the entire community hosted a large party to celebrate.
“It really was a community effort, and it was amazing to be a part of a team with people from Nicaragua to make something happen,” said Polanco ’09.
Beyond living, eating and working in the Ticuantepe community, Bridges to Community hosted the students on other adventures throughout Nicaragua. The students explored a dormant volcano and Grenada, the oldest city in the Americas, and were able to swim in a volcanic crater lagoon. Carl Ranieri ’11, who completed his fourth trip with Bridges to Community this past week and who started the ASB trip to Nicaragua at the Colleges, said, “I was pleased with how our group not only respected, but also embraced, the Nicaraguan culture.”
The Alternative Spring Break trips at the Colleges offer students opportunities to serve new communities and people, explore new cultures, and try new things. The trips are coordinated by the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.