By Jeffrey Chance
When we think of spring break, thoughts of relaxation, friends and partying emerge. We envision sandy beaches and late nights that subsequently lead to late mornings. The farthest thing from the average student’s mind is service.
Allow me to introduce you to an alternative spring break experience. Imagine spending your vacation rebuilding communities in New Orleans, tutoring at-risk youth on the south-side of Chicago or constructing new schools in Haiti. I’ll admit that this is not the popular choice but it is rewarding to be an active participant in helping to improve the world in a small way.
College Students: How You Can Give Back On Your Spring Break
Alternative spring break (ASB) is a program where college students spend their week-long break making a difference in a community. Colleges across the United States have begun to implement campus organized service trips for students to participate in during spring break. At Howard University, those that sign up agree to rebuild, tutor or advocate in a city within the US or abroad, all at no cost to the student. Meals and transpiration are also provided.
As a Florida native, fun in the sun is a way of life for me. However, my second year in college I decided to do something different. I decided to help a great American city devastated by a hurricane and reeling from the effects.
The destination was New Orleans and students were assigned to groups that were tasked to assist in rebuilding homes, tutor displaced students, and canvas neighborhoods ensuring the remaining residents where aware of services available to them. I was assigned to a group that assisted in rebuilding homes. Within a week, students rebuilt kitchen cabinets, fences and painted the interior/exterior of homes and in one week we were making a tangible difference.
I recall meeting an elderly woman by the name of Ms. Bee. Ms. Bee’s house had been completely destroyed, and she had watched as her next door neighbor drowned. Ms. Bee, in fact, had been living out of a trailer home with her grandchildren for months, awaiting her home to be rebuilt. Like all the residents of the lower 9th ward of New Orleans Ms Bee was a victim of the storm.
Ms Bee moved me. Although the storm turned her life upside down she remained positive. Our presence provided hope; it confirmed that the people of New Orleans were not forgotten.
ASB was one of my most memorable college experiences. It was such an eye-opener. It showed me that too many times we take the small things in life for granted. More importantly, it showed me that if we work together we can make a difference.
Deciding to spend my spring break in service provided many unexpected rewards. During that week in New Orleans, my mindset towards service changed, I grew up, and I made lifelong friends. Alternative spring break reaffirmed my belief power of community service.
Alternative Spring Breaks Aren’t Just for College Students
Undergraduate students were not the sole participants. Graduate students were integral contributors providing specialized services. While in New Orleans, law students provided outreach to those still desperately in need. Their work included working in the public defender’s office, helping homeowners clear their title in order to receive much-needed government recovery aid and investigating the cases of individuals who may have been wrongfully convicted through the Innocence Project.
College is arguably the most defining moment of our lives. When you choose an institution of higher education, you are implanting yourself in a community that you should preserve, protect and leave better than you found. And ASB is a way of holding true to that commitment. Today ASB has expanded beyond the borders of the United States, allowing more students to reach more destinations and provide much-needed community services.
As students, our first priority must be our education; we have accepted the challenge of investing in our education. Although it may not be possible to dedicate a semester to community service, every student can choose the alternative path for their spring break. I did, and I’m a better person for it.
Jeffrey Chance is the director of the HOPE Scholarship Initiative. The HOPE Scholarship Initiative (HOPE) is an organization designed to support students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) through scholarship awards and college life advice provided through HOPE’s many social network accounts. HOPE believes that household income cannot continue to dictate academic outcome. Join HOPE on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.