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Alternative Spring Break: A Vacation of Helping Others

1 April 2015, 4:15 PM

SIUE Students in Jamaica. While most Southern Illinois University Edwardsville students took advantage of spring break to travel home and unwind or take exotic vacations, three groups of student ambassadors from hit the road and participated in alternative spring break. Sponsored by the Kimmel Leadership Center, the crews set out to perform community service work in Kansas City, Negril, Jamaica, and Roanoke, Va. 

In Roanoke, the group’s work included demolition of a home, painting a home, removing home flooring, destruction of walls and removal of porches. The 12-man work team was comprised of 10 undergraduate students and two graduate student chaperones. They worked together for five days to complete renovations on two homes.

Senior Derek Ruszkowski was eager to share his life-changing experiences. “This was the first time that I have participated in alternative spring break, and the trip has impacted me in ways that I would never have imagined,” the Bloomington native said. “My trip to Roanoke is actually kind of motivating me to go to graduate school, so that I can continue participating in these trips. That might actually open doors for me to become a graduate student leader on a trip. That thought truly excites me.”

Freeburg native Brittany Kaiser, a senior participating in her third alternative spring break, emphasized the valuable and diverse connections that she has made with those she worked alongside during her trip to Jamaica. “The trips are full of interactions with very diverse students and individuals, and that’s what I think makes alternative spring break so cool,” shared Kaiser. “We all come from different backgrounds and are studying different majors, but we all go to SIUE and all wanted to make a difference during our spring break. Working with this team was a great honor. I came back from this trip with a new family.”

On the Kansas City trip, senior Raneen Taha, of Chicago, and fellow SIUE students provided aid to the Stop Hunger Now (SHN) and New Roots for Refugees (NRR) organizations. The team assisted SHN by packaging meals for shipment to those in need, and also cleared a small agricultural field for NRR for farming refugees to plant.

“I would suggest that all students should try to travel on an alternative spring break,” Taha said. “The work which we perform on each trip is very rewarding and inspiring. I gained so much knowledge, had many new experiences and created new friendships with so many fellow classmates while I was in Kansas City. It was the trip of a lifetime.”

When returning to school to begin the last half of their final semester at SIUE, these alternative spring breakers had much more than celebratory photos to share with their friends. They had created connections and personal experiences that will last a lifetime.

“I want to spend my free time doing something meaningful for others and making an impact,” explained Kaiser. “There is no other way that I would have rather spent my last three spring breaks. You get so much more out of alternative spring breaks than a student could ever imagine.  Make your spring break count!”

Each individual student was responsible for his/her own expenses for the spring break travel, making it a truly charitable endeavor.

Photo: SIUE students pour cement outside a Jamaica school.

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