Students use spring break to serve community


Kyle Decarr (center) plays a guitar for a group of children on his visit to New Jersey for Alternative Spring Break.  (Photo provided by Kendra Bowman)
Kyle Decarr (center) plays a guitar for a group of children on his visit to New Jersey for Alternative Spring Break. (Photo provided by Kendra Bowman)

While many Oswego State students returned to their homes for much needed relief during spring break, some students partook in  an Alternative Spring Break and spent the week doing volunteer work at various locations around the nation.

The locations students can go during break vary from year to year. This year, students had the opportunity to travel to New Jersey, Iowa, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

“It is a really unique opportunity that you really only have the option to experience while you are in college,” Alyssa Amyott, coordinator of service learning and community service said. These services manage Alternative Spring Break. “It is a great way to meet new people, see a new place and help out a community in need.”

The students who went to Iowa, Alabama and Mississippi volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, an organization that specializes in building decent and affordable housing for low income families and addresses the issues of poverty housing worldwide.

“This trip literally changed my life,” Alabama group member Jen Labas said. “One reason is because the people in Alabama and their southern hospitality, and they all just care for everyone so much. They pray before meals which I really enjoyed, and are always putting others’ feelings and their thoughts before their own.”

Katie Sullivan took her Alternate Spring Break in Iowa this year. This is Sullivan’s third year doing a Habitat for Humanity trip during break and said she learned a lot about teamwork.

“It is such a big eye-opener to see the impact that Habitat for Humanity has on a family,” Sullivan said. “We got the honor of attending a house dedication while we were there and meet the family that was going to be living in the house and how happy they were to be receiving this house. I have a lot of background with Habitat, so it was nice to see everything you learn about right before you.”

Martin Dann, who went to Mississippi, said his group did a lot of painting on houses and that he enjoyed seeing New Orleans during their trip.

“Helping others is a great feeling, and I gained new friends and contacts from the trip,” Dann said.

Kendra Bowman participated in the New Jersey group, which worked with the Gateway Community Action Partnership head start program that assists teachers in their classrooms.

“I was the only one this year that returned from last year and clearly I still had a lot to gain if I was so eager to return,” Bowman said. “It is funny because I mentioned to my group that I never want to work with children, which seems odd since I signed up to work with them for a week, but what I really feel I gained from this experience in a new world perspective on life. I’ve lived in upstate New York my whole life, my hometown is pretty similar to the way the town of Oswego is, so I haven’t really been exposed to many diverse ethnic groups other than campus.”

Sarah Hill said she was glad to be assigned to the “baby room” and worked with children aged from 11 months to 3.5 years old.

“Being a childhood education major within today’s environment, I was very nervous for my future, but going on this trip helped solidify my future,” Hill said. “During my time in New Jersey I had many teachers come up to me and say that if I was not going to be a teacher then I would be wasting a gift.”

Magdalena Rivera traveled to the Dominican Republic to volunteer for Outreach 360, a program where the group taught English to a kindergarten class in the mornings and to second graders in the afternoons.

“It was all about teaching the children at their own pace, it was about adapting the lessons to the pace and dynamics of how the children were feeling that day and about how much they could do that day,” Rivera said. “The communicating love part was something that you do at all times, regardless of performances. For me, it was always being attentive to ensure that every child received equal attention from the group.”

Besides the valuable experience, many of the different group members said  they established a strong comradeship with their fellow Oswego State students on the trips and made new friends.

“Our days were long and many things were packed in our daily agenda, but I don’t recall anyone complaining about anything,” Rivera said. “On the contrary, everyone was always ready, willing and able to work and collaborate together. As a team leader, I am very proud of our students and the work they did during their service trip.”

Labas said her Alabama group came from all different backgrounds but didn’t let those differences separate them into cliques within the group. She enjoyed the trip so much that she actually got a tattoo of an elephant holding a hammer on her leg while she was there.

“The elephant is the state school’s mascot, so it represents Alabama,” Labas said. “It also symbolizes strength and not forgetting Alabama because elephants have a good memory then it’s holding the hammer because it reminds [me] of what I did in Alabama as in building houses.”

According to Amyotte, Alternative Spring Break and other voluntary service work is important to the student experience because it often puts students in an experience or situation outside their comfort zone.

“They learn new skills, meet people in the community, as well as other students, they probably would never have crossed paths with otherwise, and hopefully learn that they have the ability to make a difference in the communities they are a part of now and in the future,” Amyotte said.

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