Breaking with Spring Tradition

Student-led alternative spring break programs provide perspective, opportunities for service

By Maria M. Lameiras

Students working with garden implements

At your service: Hani Khayre 14OX, Danielle McFarlane 14OX, Ester Park 14OX, and Andrew Walker 15OX work on a revitalization project in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Courtesy of Emily Dong 14OX

Students carrying timber

Cause and effect: Alexandra Durkee 15N, Aileen Rivell 16C, Jocelyn Hong 15OX, Hiren Suraiya 15OX, and Sara Staville 15C remove rotting railroad ties at Beardsley Community Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Courtesy of Justin Nie 12OX 14B

Students working with paint

Adrian Fory 15OX and Sonia Dattaray 16C work with the Green Project’s paint recycling program in New Orleans.

New Orleans: Courtesy of Naziya Noorani 16C

With a backpack, a blanket, and five dollars for food, Emory junior Rebecca Du 15C was prepared for spring break, but her chosen journey was the antithesis of the college cliche of a debauched week in a sunny locale.

Du and nine other Emory students spent their spring break performing service and sleeping outdoors or in a homeless shelter as participants in Volunteer Emory’s Homeless Immersion Alternative Spring Break trip.

The trip was one of several organized through Emory’s Office of Student Leadership and Service and Oxford’s Office of Student Development that offered students the opportunity to spend their spring break working on more than a tan. Alternative break service trips are offered during spring, fall, and winter breaks and are designed to nurture meaningful student development through projects that foster community engagement, exposure to social justice issues and cultural events, and a unique hands-on education.

Trips offered this year included programs on sustainability in New Orleans, Louisiana; youth advocacy in Orlando, Florida; social mobility in Appalachia in Knoxville, Tennessee; Native American cultural preservation in Bolton, North Carolina; community service and cultural immersion around Charleston, South Carolina; and Heifer International’s heifer ranch program in Perryville, Arkansas.

During the homeless immersion experience, students walked everywhere they went, working with homeless organizations including the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, the Gateway Center, Progressive Hope House, the Open Door Community, and the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.

“The first thing I learned during my homeless immersion experience was that they are not homeless people: they are people experiencing homelessness. The fact that they do not have a place to call home does not define who they are; it is simply a single piece of a much larger puzzle,” says Du, who is majoring in anthropology and human biology with a minor in economics. “We need to change the narrative that surrounds homelessness. No one is above homelessness, but the circumstances and privileges into which we are born determine the capacity with which we can deal with unexpected crises and avoid homelessness.”

Working on sustainability projects in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward gave first-year Emory student Casey Costello 17C a deeper understanding of how she could influence a whole community through her actions.

“At the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) in the Lower Ninth Ward we did a variety of jobs—from working in a garden to rebuilding a house that will be used for sustainable education and office work. We built a close connection with the volunteer coordinator, Ms. Warrenetta Banks, who provided deeper insight into why CSED was created and what the Sustain the Nine initiative actually is,” Costello says. “She showed us that we are not merely doing volunteer work, we are helping people rebuild their lives. Her stories and kind heart made such a great impact and definitely made this trip an unforgettable one.

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