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Alternative Spring Break Brings Student Service to World

By Will Gillespie

BOONE – For most students, spring break is a chance to travel, have fun and build friendships. But for approximately 120 students enrolled in the Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) office’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB), the hiatus is a chance to improve communities in need through volunteer service work.

“The trips are life-changing experiences,” ACT Community Service Coordinator Jenny Koehn said. “It’s a good opportunity for students to experience service work during college.”

Students have planned 10 separate trips this year, the most trips the ACT office has ever offered. Koehn said that the increase in trips is a result of rising student interest in the ASB program. Until 2000, only two ASB trips were offered each year.

This year’s ASB trip lineup includes the first-ever international excursion to the Dominican Republic. Students Katie Thomson and Matt Parks are coordinating the landmark trip, on which their group will build and repair homes in a rural community.

” The Dominican Republic proved to be the ideal location to launch our first international program” said Thomson, a senior from New Jersey. She and Parks chose the Dominican Republic because of its warm climate and exotic location. Parks spent last summer in the Dominican Republic working with the service organization that the ASB participants will assist.

Koehn said that all ASB trips are completely student planned, and that ASB’s good reputation and the valuable work experience it provides make it appealing to students. The ACT office helps train trip leaders, who meet each week for a year. The students’ ideas for service projects are finalized through their training classes and a team of four veteran trip leaders who offer guidance to first-time leaders.

” A student-run program creates an environment that truly allows all members of the group feel open and take ownership of the program,” Thomson said. “ASB has deepened my personal commitment to service.” She said her experiences with the program led her to apply for work in the Peace Corps after college.

Other students will travel to Boston where they will package meals at the Greater Boston Food Bank, deliver food to a women’s shelter and an elderly care center, and work with children in a Volunteers of America-Massachusetts after-school program.

An ASB group going to Atlanta will provide after-school care for inner city youth at Wilderness Works, an organization that gives urban children chances to experience nature in the North Georgia Mountains.

In Philadelphia, ASB students will tutor foster children at the Northern Home for Children. Students on the New York City trip will work at the Harlem YMCA.

The Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge is the destination for the ASB trip bound for Athens, Ga. Another group will assist Mountain Top Ministries and repair homes in rural communities around Nashville, Tenn.

The Beans and Rice program in Radford, Va., provides community development workshops to supplement the community development assistance that ASB students will provide to low-income families.

ASB students working with the Tri County Community Action Agency in Bridgeton, N.J., will work with children living in poverty and help maintain buildings in the area.

Students going to Washington, D.C., will work in the DC Central Soup Kitchen and prepare 4,000 meals each day. The DC trip participants will also take the Urban Plunge offered by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The plunge is a 48-hour experience designed to teach outsiders the realities of homelessness.

Koehn said that ASB programs have been a success in the past, and that 2005’s trips should be no exception. In fact, all but three openings were filled on the first night students could sign up for the trips.

” Alternative Spring Break is for students who are looking for a different and special spring break experience,” Koehn said. “Students have fun, and the reward outweighs the work.”

For information about all the ASB trips and the ACT office, go to www.act.appstate.edu or contact Jenny Koehn at (828) 262-2193 or koehnjr@appstate.edu.

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