From Hurricane Sandy relief efforts to service projects in Jamaica, a record number of HWS students gave back to communities around the country and beyond on Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips this year. The highlights of their recent service are distinctive and diverse, with students gaining important insights about community engagement, service learning and personal development.
A member of the Hurricane Sandy relief project, New Jersey-native Benjamin Vaccaro ’15 was one of 41 students who participated on an ASB trip this semester. For Vaccaro, the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts marked an unforgettable project, one that was close to home.
“Participating in the relief project was both a humbling and emotional experience, not just because of the vast devastation, but because I was born, raised and live in New Jersey,” says Vaccaro, a media and society major, who is a member of the student organization, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault.
With his friends’ homes on the Jersey Shore and in Long Beach Island, Vaccaro says being back in New Jersey amid the devastation was striking, but certainly a challenge he wanted to tackle through volunteer work.
“I have seen the places where we volunteered and the locations where we drove through. I have spent days and weeks living down there during the summer,” Vaccaro says. “To finally see it in this way was very humbling.”
HWS Senior Technical Support Specialist Jeff DeVuyst, the trip leader for the Colleges’ Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, says that the group of students he worked with made significant contributions to the affected communities.
“Repeatedly, the students’ feedback showed how much they enjoyed the opportunity to work with many different agencies doing a variety of jobs,” says DeVuyst, who also lead a Hurricane Katrina relief effort with students in 2006.
In New Jersey, DeVuyst says the students collaborated with AmeriCorps, Volunteers of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and a number of local churches, conducting a wide-range of work, including sand and debris cleanup, warehouse and food pantry organization, serving children lunch and helping with their homework. During the efforts, HWS students also joined with students from Towson University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Rutgers University.
The Hurricane Sandy relief project was one of six of the Colleges’ ASB experiences this year facilitated through the Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement (CCESL). The other trips included working at an elementary school in rural North Carolina, a community-based service project in Jamaica, volunteering with an afterschool program in the Bronx, in partnership with the Finger Lakes Institute working at a sustainable farm in Ithaca, N.Y., and at a Rural and Migrant Ministry in Lyons, N.Y.
Professor of Sociology Jim Spates led the ASB trip to New York City in the Bronx, Associate Professor of English Laurence Erussard led the trip to Jamaica, Assistant Director of CCESL Jeremy Wattles led the North Carolina experience, and Sarah Meyer, community outreach coordinator for the HWS Finger Lakes Institute led the trip in Ithaca.
Director of CCESL Katie Flowers, who was the team leader of the Lyons experience, says the Colleges worked diligently to provide important opportunities for students to access ASB experiences, particularly with an increased number of students expressing interest.
“This year, we are very glad to have been able to respond to each of the respective needs in the communities that hosted us, and in light of the HWS response to the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, an immediate need was met,” Flowers says. “All of the ASB experiences helped to cultivate the civic interests of our students who forged strong relationships with each other and their host communities throughout the week.”
In light of this year’s trips, the HWS community is invited to join a special ASB luncheon celebration and reflection from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 5 in the Intercultural Affairs game room.
Reflecting on her Spring Break trip, Liza Dean ’13 says her time participating in an ASB experience in Jamaica was incredibly rewarding. Dean and a number of other HWS students worked with the organization, Amizade, which empowers individuals and communities through service and learning.
In Jamaica, HWS students participated in a community-based service-learning project that focused on working with students in a primary school. Dean says her ASB team’s main role in the school was to assist teachers and to give children the extra attention in the classroom they normally don’t receive.
The classes usually consist of 30 children, she says, making it difficult for teachers to give every child individual attention. Dean said they would help each child with the lessons the teachers assigned them, including math, reading, penmanship, among other activities.
“The highlights of my trip included little moments like having lunch with the fourth-graders and learning about their families and different backgrounds, playing at recess with the children and having them teach me their games, walking into the preschool and being surrounded by 10 children trying to hug me at once, and dinner conversations with my host mother who would answer my unending list of questions about political and cultural aspects of Jamaica, as well as the education system,” Dean says.
In light of the ASB experience, Dean says the Colleges helped to prepare her by making her more culturally aware and giving her the tools to learn and experience Jamaica in a significant way.
“Without my experience at HWS, I wouldn’t have known what to look for or what questions to ask in order to get the most out of my time in Jamaica.”