SARASOTA, Fla. (March 23, 2016) – Dina Thelusma liked handing out packaged and canned goods to the homeless and others who visited the food bank.
Cody Bowman enjoyed interacting with the pre-kindergarten children at the daycare center, as did Geborah Joseph-Smith.
Other students talked about the benefits of tutoring and working in a community garden and the lessons drawn from helping the underprivileged.
For 14 USF Sarasota-Manatee students who chose to devote themselves to service rather than hanging out and relaxing for a week, this year’s Spring Break vacation was hardly a break.
The students divided into two groups, with one heading to Atlanta and the other Miami, to spend their time off working with preschoolers and adolescents, tending vegetable gardens and handing out food to the homeless and others.
“It made me feel productive and made me feel good,” said Bowman, a 29-year-old junior who, among other things, painted flower boxes and made “slime” with pre-kindergartners in Miami.
“By the time we had to go, it was tough saying goodbye,” added Joseph-Smith, who joined her on the trip in order to “do service and something meaningful that will last.”
The groups left for their “Alternative Spring Break” destinations on March 12 and returned to USFSM on March 18. The South Florida group stayed in Fort Lauderdale, but spent most of its time at the Little Masters Academy in Miami.
The other group ventured to suburban Atlanta where the students saw the house where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived, as well as the King Center museum. They also visited the a community garden to pull out weeds, a local middle school to tutor students and a food bank where they handed out canned and packaged goods to those in need.
“About 150 people showed up,” junior Jaime Hernandez Carranza said of the experience at the food bank.
The 29-year-old biology student said he aspires to be a medical doctor but is no stranger to charity work, having spent a summer five years ago at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “It’s not like I can write out a big check to an organization, but what I can do is volunteer my time.”
Many of the others adopted similar attitudes. In fact, Alternative Spring Breaks are catching on nationwide as universities and aid organizations seek options to the usual over-the-top rituals for which Spring Break has become known.
USFSM started forming its own Alternative Spring Break program last fall when students applied and were selected to attend. Since then, the groups have met regularly to plan and prepare their trips. The students paid from $200 to $250 each to participate and worked together throughout the year to raise funds. An “Alternative Spring Break Trivia Night” in January raised more than $1,000 for the program.
“Providing this experience for our students allows them to take a hands-on approach to learn about issues that our communities are facing in real time,” said program organizer Kati Hinds, coordinator of Student Organizations and Leadership. “Students are able to apply the concepts they learn in the classroom to the issues communities struggle with.”
For Thelusma, an 18-year-old freshman who traveled to Atlanta, the trip was her first to the Peach State.
She said she enjoyed the camaraderie of traveling, rooming and working with her USFSM classmates, as well as those from Rutgers and Ohio State universities who also traveled to Atlanta to help out, but when pressed to identify a game-changing moment, she pointed to her experience at the food bank.
Handing out the food, especially the baby formula to one woman in particular, made an indelible impression, she said.
“I met a woman with a baby. Even in her struggle you could see a soft, kind spirit. I wanted to help her. She was so kind,” she said. “It was very moving. It just opened my eyes to see the different aspects of life I had never taken into consideration before.”