Nearly 100 students volunteer for Alternative Spring Break

Janeal Downs
Staff Writer 

While some students partied and went to the beach for spring break, other students performed community service and charity work in communities across the country.

The student organization Alternative Spring Break planned eight trips to choose from. Ninety-four VCU students participated in service learning trips from March 8-15 during VCU’s 2014 spring break. Each trip had two site leaders and all but one trip had 10 other students.

“Most people think of spring break as a time to go to Cancun, go to Florida and party, but a lot of people don’t realize that so many students across the U.S. and especially at VCU are spending their spring breaks to do service projects,” said Augustin Joseph, a physics major who is president of ASB. “Not only is ASB about serving the community, there’s also a lot of personal growth.”

Joseph was one of two site leaders this year to take a group of students on a trip to Nashville, Tenn. to work with the McNeilly Center, a nonprofit childcare agency.

“The area’s not the greatest area for the children to grow up in so it’s like a children’s center, focused on a lot of school work (and) a lot of recreational activities,” Joseph said. “It’s kind of like a big brother, big sister kind of program.”

Students went to Long Island, N.Y. and worked on disaster relief from Hurricane Sandy. Another group went to Tampa Bay, Fla. to assist Metropolitan Ministries, which works with the homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

Other students went to New Orleans, La. and worked with the maintenance of the New Orleans City Park and the St. Bernard’s Project, a nonprofit organization rebuilding homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Some students also traveled to North Carolina to work with the Carolina Tiger Sanctuary, which nurtures captured and abused tigers and attempts to revitalize them so they can live in the wild again, Joseph said.

“So we’re working with little cats and big cats,” Joseph said. “We got a lot of interest for that trip this year, it’s really unique. We never really done something like that.”

A second trip to Florida took students to Kissimmee, Fla. to work with an organization called Give Kids the World. This has been a trip option in ASB since the organization first formed in 2007, Joseph said.

“It’s working with children with terminal illnesses,” Joseph said. “That was my first trip that I went on and it was just absolutely life changing.”

The final group of students traveled to the Dominican Republic to teach English at a children’s center.

In past years, there were trips to California working with a park foundation and Honduras. Joseph said he hopes to extend to two international trips throughout the Caribbean and South America.

“Sooner or later my goal for ASB is to have a total of approximately 15 trips of which we have a solid seven or eight trips we go to every year … so every year some organization can depend on us,” Joseph said.

In previous years, domestic trips were $300 per student, but with increased support from the school the costs were $225 this year per student. The international trip cost $1,000 per student.

“At the same time, ASB covers all food, all accommodations, all site fees, all housing so you pay that lump sum and everything’s provided for the whole week and not only is all that provided, it’s such a great experience,” Joseph said.

Though ASB is completely student-run, Joseph said the organization received more support from the university this year, including from student organization finance coordinator Donte Sharpe and volunteer services coordinator Beth Ward.

“It just adds so much dimension … it’s just such a plus to their education,” Ward said. “Every one of them will probably say it’s a life-changing experience.”

Ward said the department recently asked the board members if they desired more support from the university and if they wanted at least one faculty or staff member to join each trip. ASB turned down the offer, but were open to advising from Ward and more financial support from the university.

Student Commons assistant director of finance and personnel George Kelly said ASB was awarded more than $29,000 from the Student Government Association, which allocates money from the student activity fee to student organizations. About $21,500 went to lodging for the trips in the United States and $7,650 went to airfare for the international trip, Kelly said.

Director of the University Student Commons and activities Jeremy Schenk said programs like ASB can be found across the country and are “widely successful.”

“It meets what VCU is all about, what we define in the Quest and really our commitment to community engagement,” Schenk said. “It allows the students to go and really immerse themselves in another culture or another community or immerse themselves into a social issue.”

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