Students sacrifice spring break for service

By Matt Daray

While some students head to Cancun or Miami, one group will focus on helping others this spring break.

Alternate Spring Break 2013 will take students to one of four locations, where they will volunteer their time through service learning. This year, participants will travel to New Orleans to volunteer at food pantries and shelters; to Knoxville, Tenn., to assist veterans with disabilities; to Nashville, Tenn., to work at a zoo and learn about ecology; or to Memphis, Tenn., to work with organic gardens and provide food to those who live in poverty. The trip runs March 9-16 and provides students more than 1,200 possible service hours.

Jason Gillman, student health services assistant director and Alternate Spring Break staff adviser, said the program is a way students can enjoy their break while performing service events on a drug- and alcohol- free trip. While other departments such as Residential Life have offered the program in past years, this year’s Wellness Center-sponsored version will offer a specific theme to “think globally, act locally,” he said.


“This one is a specific model that’s designed to help students move across the continuum of citizenship and also is built around certain aspects of the trip like reflection and working together,” he said.

Gillman said students who take the trips can benefit just as much as the people they help.

“It’s an opportunity to give back to the community,” he said. “(Students) get a sense of community amongst the other members who are going with them. They meet new people and make new friends, and they also start to consider the world we live in whether it’s hunger and homelessness or ecology over sustainable food.”

Jo Ann Howd, program coordinator and graduate student in education from La Harpe, said she began to map this year’s Alternate Spring Break locations and activities almost a year ago, and much diligence went into the planning.

“We wanted to find places that weren’t too far away from Carbondale, cities that needed service work in their area but also places that would be fun destinations,” she said.

Howd said she wanted enjoyable destinations because exploration is just as important for students as the work they provide. Though student numbers are limited as about 35 students will participate between the four locations, she said, students can still make a difference and accomplish much during the break.

“The groups range from anywhere from 10 people to 14 people all together, so they’re going to be working on different venues,” she said. “That’s a lot of volunteers to be working for an entire week.”


Beyond providing community service outside Carbondale, University Spokesman Rod Sievers said the trip will benefit the volunteers and spread a positive university student image.

“We all know how our students are eager to get out and do new things, get out and work and explore new ideas and new events, and this gives students an opportunity to do that.”

Howd said she believes the trip helps offer students a rare chance to travel to new places and assist other communities.

“It’s a lot different from the traditional spring break where you’re not really doing anything over your spring break,” she said.” (It gives) students a chance to get out, see some different issues that are going on in communities not far from them, and then act on that,” she said.

Gillman said Alternate Spring Break is important to community building and hopes to see it expand.

“Not only is it important (to students), but it’s also one of the things that SIU can continue to do and grow and be part of the community it serves and build upon that service learning aspect,” he said.