Davidson Students Turn Vacation Into Opportunity for Service
March 5, 2001
As spring break season begins and college students flock to the beach, many Davidson College students are choosing the "alternative." Fifty-two students are spending the week of March 4-11 doing community service work at inner-city schools, homeless shelters, and Habitat-for-Humanity sites across the country for a truly memorable spring break experience.
"Alternative Breaks," an experiential learning program growing in popularity at Davidson and around the country, places teams of volunteers in needy communities to engage in an intense, week-long service project. The experience is not a vacation in the traditional sense, but it gives students the opportunity to work on social problems they don't often confront in their lives on campus.
The college's Activities Tax Council funds most of the cost of the trips, which is one reason for the program's increasing popularity. In addition to those students participating during spring break, another fifty were involved during fall break. The total of 100 students involved this year is twice as many as last year, and four times as many as the year before!
The experience doesn't conclude until after participants return to campus, when they convene for a "reorientation" to reflect on how the trip changed their view on issues, and how the lessons they learned can be applied locally.
"A week of service is not going to solve a national problem, but it will show people how they can be useful in the future," said senior Taylor Herbert, co-leader of the program with junior student Adam Brown. "The benefit is for the participant rather than the site."
Herbert is leading an Alternative Break group to the Friendship House, a homeless shelter in the rural farming community of Immokalee, Fla., where they will work with Hispanic migrant workers.
Another group, led by Brown, is traveling to Detroit to spend a week providing counseling and training in violence prevention for youth in inner city schools and detention facilities. Other "alternative" destinations for spring break include New Orleans, Harlem, and Washington, D.C.
Working with community service coordinator Rosie Molinary and the national service organization Break Away, Herbert and Brown chose locations that will offer volunteers purposeful experiences in issues ranging from literacy and homelessness to gang violence and the environment. In essence, the program seeks to use the students' vacation time as a springboard into lifelong active citizenship, where service becomes a priority in an individual's life decisions.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.