SIU students spend spring break helping others

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SIU students spend spring break helping others

By Tyler Crotzer, @TylerCrotzer_DE

Partying with friends, seeing family and having no responsibilities come to mind when thinking about spring break. It’s a time to relax and recharge the batteries before returning to all the work that was so easy left behind at school.

“I could have went to a different city and partied or went out with people,” said Aaron Uhe, a senior from Alhambra studying architecture. “But for me, a better memory would be to go to a place and interact with the community.”

Uhe was a part of a group of more than 30 SIU students who used spring break to take part in community service projects around the U.S.

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The Carbondale chapter of Students Today Leaders Forever, which works to reveal leadership through service projects, went on its first stand-alone “pay it forward” tour during the break.

The members participated in the tour during last year’s spring break — their first year as a RSO — but because of low enrollment, they had to merge with St. Louis University’s tour. This year, the group visited five states and took part in six projects, ranging from cleaning local businesses to advocating for homeless teens.

Cassondra Walker, a junior from Middleborough, Mass., studying physiology, planned the event in Myrtle Beach, S.C. They worked with Sea Haven’s Project Lighthouse — an emergency crisis service for youths 13 to 21 years old. 

“I’d never done anything with homelessness,” Walker said. “So, I knew I wanted to do something different not only for myself, but for others in the program. There are not a lot of opportunities in Carbondale that I know of for people to help the homeless, so I found Project Lighthouse.”

The group split into teams and visited hotels to disperse food vouchers provided by Sea Haven for homeless or runaway teens.

Walker said most of the hotels they visited allowed younger individuals to stay there while the food vouchers, which could be redeemed at the Sea Haven facility, allowed teens to have more money to spend on lodging.

Some groups visited hotels that turned away people under 21 and gave staff vouchers to hand out to teens, which provided them with a meal and a place to stay at Sea Haven.

“I was unsure how we would be able to make a difference in hopes of hotels giving food vouchers out,” said Kristin Boelter, the chapter’s founder. “But after seeing what Sea Haven offers — nice clothes for interviews, a garden, help creating resumes and more — I knew that any one person that stepped into Sea Haven would make all the difference.”

The group also did clean-up projects for the Costal Discovery Museum in South Carolina, Chehaw Park’s Zoo in Georgia, Pensacola Beach in Florida and a no-kill animal shelter in North Carolina. While in the Tar Heel State, some of the members helped a water revitalization organization clean a creek in Asheville.

After spending long days working throughout the country and even longer nights sleeping on the floors, tour members were treated to a hotel room for two nights in their celebration city, Pensacola, Fla., which sits on the Gulf of Mexico.

In Pensacola the national branch planned a project to clear sand and debris left behind from recent hurricanes before they took time to relax on the beach and meet people from other chapters of STLF. 

The tour cost $480 per person with a $125 registration fee. To ensure that everyone who wants to go can, Boelter said payments can be made in small increments.

Boelter, a junior from South Elgin studying interior design, said the group is always searching for ways to help out in the Carbondale community as well.

Last year they helped with Keep Carbondale Beautiful and Touch of Nature. She hopes to do more projects this year as the weather gets warmer.

Anyone interested in giving back to the community or participating in next year’s tour can attend one of the weekly meetings at 5 p.m. Tuesdays in the lower level of Grinnell.  

Tyler Crotzer can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325. 

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