Student Caitlyn Connerty believes in the importance of seeing the world from others’ perspectives, which is why she has embarked on her third Alternative Spring Break service-learning trip, returning this year to a home-building project in Athens, Georgia, as a group leader.
“I think that it's important to experience something that is out of your element and realize how lucky you are to have what you have in life,” said Connerty. “We are very fortunate to live where we live and have access to the resources that we have, but others are not so fortunate.”
'Perfect' blend of travel and service
Brad Migliacci, who loves travel and enjoys helping people, is committed to Alternative Spring Break because it offers a “perfect combination” of the two.
In his three years at the University, Migliacci has built homes for the needy in Denver and Mississippi and this year is working with a Penobscot Nation youth program in Maine.
Learning about culture, rights, history, environment
Migliacci and Connerty are among 130 Suffolk University Students relax on stone bridge they built on a creek in Prince William Forest Park, Virginia.students passing up the traditional spring break vacation to serve in communities across the country. The S.O.U.L.S. Community Service and Service Learning Center has organized environmental, LGBTQ, Habitat for Humanity, and youth service programs.
“It’s not so much that I’m giving up my time, but I’m using it for someone else,” said Migliacci, who is co-leader of the service trip to Passadumkeag, Maine, where students will live in Suffolk University’s riverfront research and academic facility. They will learn about the Penobscot culture from members of the tribe and work with children at the local Boys and Girls Club.
Motivated to work for LGBTQ equality
Meanwhile, student Lauren Vachon will help lead a LGBTQ service trip to Philadelphia, where student volunteers will work to build membership and awareness for the Equality Pennsylvania organization and its cause.
Vachon said that Pennsylvania politics make it very difficult to pass legislation regarding LGBTQ rights. Equality Pennsylvania is dedicated to the support and education of Pennsylvanians and to promoting legislation concerning issues such as discrimination, marriage rights, and hate crime.
“Knowing that one week of service building awareness for the cause could potentially have a great impact on the community of Philadelphia is a great source of motivation,” said Vachon.
A sense of 'duty'
Ruthly Francois works with Habitat for Humanity project leader Beau Harvey during the 2011 Alternative Spring Break in Athens, Georgia.Ruthly Francois, who will be planting seedlings in a Virginia state park, said that, while academics are essential to the college experience, "you also have a duty to take care of the community."
"It's awesome that Suffolk University offers opportunities to reach out and do altruistic activities," said Francois, who gained the confidence to become a trip leader after her first Alternative Spring Break trip last year.
Two student leaders have planned and serve as guides at each of the 10 service sites, assisted by staff facilitators. The sites include:
- Delaplane, Va. – Environmental
- Triangle, Va. – Environmental
- Philadelphia – LGBTQ
- Passadumkeag, Maine – Youth service and cultural awareness
- Statesville, N.C. – Habitat for Humanity
- Newland, N.C. – Habitat for Humanity
- Denver – Habitat for Humanity
- Gulfport, Miss. – Habitat for Humanity
- Athens, Ga. – Habitat for Humanity
- Georgetown, Del. – Habitat for Humanity
Students enrolled in the course “The Civilian Conservation Corps and the American Landscape” will be able to perform similar work to that completed by CCC members as they travel to Prince William Forest Park in Virginia.
Leadership and teamwork
In addition to performing service, students hone teamwork and leadership skills through the Alternative Spring Break programs.
“As student leaders, we're taught to embrace diversity and different types of people and environments, but until you actually are thrust into an experience like that, it's hard for you to truly understand it,” said Connerty, whose Habitat for Humanity work returns her this year to a Georgia county that is the poorest in America.
Connerty’s experiences have helped her carve out a career goal: She is applying to graduate school for higher education administration/student affairs with a focus in involvement and service learning.
“Having all of these experiences under my belt has only helped me to grow as a student,” she said.