Students Spend Break on Service Trips

Natalie Gaugh

Last week, students participating in the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) Alternative Spring Break program traveled to Louisiana, North Carolina and the Dominican Republic.

“This is one of the COVE’s signature programs,” COVE Director Ingrid Hale said of the popular Alternative Break trips.

She indicated that people who are involved in local community workshops can use these trips as opportunities to transfer their skills.

“It’s a really important [program]. Students come back and say it was a life-changing experience,” Hale said.

The Habitat for Humanity project team consisted of twelve students, two student staff and one staff member, Center for Leadership and Student Involvement Director Greg Victory. The group drove in two vans to New Bern, North Carolina, where they planned to help lay down plywood flooring and frame the walls for a new house. The location was rained out the first day, so the team spent the day prepping, serving and organizing food at a local soup kitchen. Once they started working, however, all of the progress they had expected to make was completed in two days. Hence, in addition to building the frame, the COVE volunteers were able to do internal and external work, including building a porch and putting up sheaving.

“Everybody was sore, but we went into a rhythm. We’d all want to work,” staff member, senior Maria Marinucci said. “It was hard to step back [when the tasks were done].”

The group stayed at a local church and arrived at the site every morning at 8 a.m.

“We paid for two meals all week,” Marinucci said, explaining that the community members were very welcoming and provided food for the workers. In addition, the construction workers were very helpful, patiently teaching the volunteers how to do their tasks.

The home they worked on was being built for a woman and her four-year-old son. The mother, who was working on going back to school to get her Master’s degree, gave the team hand-written thank-you notes and even helped out on the site.

The trip made the students reflect on the role of poverty, as well as its various causes.

“We realized how much we can change in one person’s life and a community. So much needs to be done,” Marinucci said. “We realized the importance of housing – it’s a base, somewhere to start.”

Another COVE group went to New Iberia, Louisiana and worked on cleaning out and gutting five homes. Working with the grassroots agency Southern Mutual Help Association, the team initially thought they’d be working on hurricane relief. On Friday, however, they were informed of their new assignment in New Iberia.

“Once we realized what we were doing,” COVE Administrative Coordinator Colleen Nassimos said, “We saw how important it was.”

They set to work rebuilding homes for families and people in need. The area where they were volunteering contained all levels of economic success and stress, within just a few blocks.

“That’s what the COVE does – get to the root of the problem,” Nassimos said.

She added that, for the most part, the students did not know each other in the beginning of the week, but that they came together in the end.

“They worked really hard. They should be proud of that,” Nassimos said.

The third group worked on the Healthy Living Project in Nebya, in the Dominican Republic. An alumna from the class of 2008, who worked in the Dominican Republic during her study-abroad experience, thought that the COVE could create an influential program there and thus initiated this healthy-living program. Working with the local organizations Vision Mundial and Community Service Alliance, nine students continued working on a nutritional and anti-drug campaign that began in spring of 2008. They helped plant gardens and led workshops and information sessions. In addition, they worked on two anti-drug murals and talked with community members about the effects of drug abuse.

The application process for these trips begins in the fall, as there are also Winter Break trips offered. After filling out a form, students undergo an interview.

“While some students may not get their first choice initially, they end up realizing that having this break trip experience is important,” Hale said. There is also a fee to participate, but the COVE can waive it if necessary. It is an “open” application, giving all class years a chance to get involved.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity and a real bonding experience,” Hale said, echoing the sentiments of the students who had had the chance to go on one of the COVE’s Alternative Break trips.