Spend Spring Break Helping Others
Instead of relaxing on the beach in Florida during the upcoming spring break, ten students will donate their time to community service in New York City this March.
Joseph Deegan, an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) representative in the Colby Volunteer Center (CVC), and Jessica Boyle '12, an assistant director of the CVC, are leading this year's alternative spring break (ASB) trip, which will focus on the issue of urban poverty.
The trip is partnering with the Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP), which organizes volunteer work camps in both New York City and Washington, D.C. According to YSOP's program statement, "Volunteers prepare and serve meals at soup kitchens; they provide recreational activities and companionship to young, formerly homeless children; they distribute food and supplies at food pantries; they socialize and bring snacks to people in drop-in centers. Occasionally they join in special projects we have been asked to staff, such as painting a new shelter with residents or distributing clothing at a clothing bank."
Through this week-long immersion program, student volunteers have the opportunity to gain awareness of the underlying issue of poverty in New York City and then to make a tangible difference in the communities in which they work.
While Deegan and Boyle's current focus remains on the upcoming trip to New York City, they hope to develop a sustainable ASB program that will focus on a different theme each year and will ultimately become a permanent part of the campus culture.
"The great part of the CVC is that it is entirely student-run," Deegan says. "This is a seed year [of the ASB program], but it will result in committed and empowered leaders in years to come."
A critical component of all ASB programs will be a pre-trip orientation on campus and a post-trip meeting that will give participants time to reflect on their experiences.
The purpose of the orientation is to foster group bonding, as well as to educate volunteers on poverty and homelessness. By doing this in advance, students will be able to jump right into their service work when they arrive in New York City.
Throughout the trip, students will spend each evening reflecting on the day's events. Upon their return to campus, they will attempt to draw meaningful connections between their work experience and their daily life on the Hill.
The trip also highlights simplistic living; students will be staying in modest accommodations and cooking meals together. Participants who went on a similar trip to Galveston, Texas last year say that living as a small community has its rewards. "The trip brought together a bunch of students from a variety of social circles, who all wouldn't have normally gotten to know each other," Simran Jaising '12 says. "It was truly an eye-opening and life changing experience."
Deegan and Boyle acknowledge that some students may be turned away from the trip because it is more local than in years past, when other groups have traveled to worksites in the South. "We're definitely going to get a different group of students," Deegan says. "At the same time, we hope the location gets us a self-selective group that is committed to the project." And although the New York City trip promises to be a lot of work, students will have some opportunities to explore the city. While the overall travel expenses will not be extremely high, Boyle wants the trip to be expense-free for all participants. "Cost should not be prohibitive," she emphasizes.
Deegan and Boyle plan to launch a fundraising campaign once they select a group of students. They are waiting to hear from the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, as well as the Student Government Association, as to whether or not they will be receiving funding for their ASB programs. Last week, President William "Bro" Adams contributed money to the overall ASB effort with the hope that it becomes a recurring college program.
"We want [ASB] to be strong from the start," Boyle says. "If this is successful, then we will be able to get even more funding for more trips next year."
Other student groups, such as the Colby Christian Fellowship (CCF) and the Colby Outing Club (COC) are also planning spring break trips. The CCF is travelling to New Orleans to volunteer with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's "Katrina Relief Urban Plunge," while the COC is sponsoring its traditional outdoor excursions into the backcountry. Similar to the New York City trip, "the specific goals [of the CCF trip] are really getting to know other people and serve an area that needs help," Elise Randall '10, a member of the fellowship, says. "We want to provide an opportunity to learn about a different area of the country and put the Colby values of service and volunteerism into practice." Although the CCF and the COC are not directly affiliated with the CVC's ASB program, Deegan hopes that they partake in the pre-trip orientation and post-trip reflection that he is leading with the New York City group.
Deegan points out that any student can start his or her own service-based trip this spring and that anyone who is planning to lead a trip should stop by the CVC (located in Diamond 111) for logistical support.
Students who are interested in participating in the New York ASB trip should contact Joseph Deegan at (207) 859-4150 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.