Students spend spring break serving others

Alternative Spring Break gives a new twist to fun in the sun

Alternative Spring Break/Niceville, Fla.Nearly 50 NIU students put a new spin on spring break this year, forsaking the stereotype of sun-drenched partying to volunteer across the nation.

Their activities were part of NIU’s Alternative Spring Break program, which began in 2009.

“It began with one trip to Galveston, Texas, to assist with clean-up following Hurricane Ike, which hit in fall of 2008,” said Becky Harlow, assistant director for community service with the office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development. “Since then, the program has grown to include multiple destinations, each of which are chosen and led by a group of student coordinators.”

The program provides students with a chance to escape the grind of their studies, while giving back a little something to society.

“Many of my friends decided to escape reality for spring break and head to beaches in Florida and Mexico,” said Khaled Ismail, a senior political science major. “I felt like I needed to do something that would help me get focused and motivated when I get back to the final stretch of the semester,”

This year, NIU offered six Alternative Spring Break programs:

Alternative Spring Break/Niceville, Fla.

  • Kissimmee, Fla. Students volunteered at Give Kids the World, a specialized resort used by families making Make-A-Wish Foundation trips to Florida theme parks. They served meals, gave train rides, oversaw game rooms and participated in safety patrol, among many other tasks.
  • Niceville, Fla. Students participated in a program called Community Collaborations helping with a Gulf Coast restoration project by installing new plant life along the coast. By the end of the week, volunteers had collectively moved 30 tons of plants.
  • Pensacola, Fla. Students who participated in the Habitat for Humanity trip helped build houses for low income families from the ground up. They put up walls, nailed down roofs, and installed windows.
  • Newark, N.J. Students helped clean-up Boys and Girls Club facilities, volunteered in an elementary school, helping with homework, leading class activities, and engaging in outdoor and gym-time play experiences with the children.
  • Washington, D.C. Students who were part of the Youth Service Opportunities Project volunteered for different organizations with activities that included preparing and serving meals at soup kitchens, providing recreational activities and companionship to young, formerly homeless children and distributing food and supplies at food pantries.
  • Washington, D.C. A group of students enrolled in a political science course traveled to the nation’s capital where they met and networked with NIU Alumni toured the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Supreme Court, to gain a greater understanding of how the government works.

The participating students said that they had no regrets about trading fun in sun for a week of service.

“It was just great to meet new people who had the mutual priority of helping others,” said junior Rosa Mejia, who participated in the Habitat for Humanity trip.

Many of the students said that they hoped more of their peers would opt for the Alternative Spring Break experience in the future.

“My experience was life changing,” junior Brooke Pillar said. “My hope is that all people get the opportunity to experience something like that at least once in their lifetime.”

by Constance Ervins

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