Alternative Spring Break

As Maryville transitions into fall, it is difficult to not dread winter coming. The allure of spring break, sunshine and palm trees is overwhelming during the months filled with snow and ice.

The standard spring break is, for one reason or another, a break many students might not remember. The parties were fantastic, or at least you think so.

Assistant Director of Student Involvement Amy Nally invites students to take part in a spring break they will likely never forget.

Alternative Spring Break is an opportunity for students to travel somewhere for a week and give back to the community. The work might be hard, but Nally promises it is worth it.

It began in 2003, but Nally took over the leadership position in 2005.

“It was a part-time position when I started and it was called Volunteer Services,” Nally said. “(The University) was trying to not only get students involved in the community within Maryville, but also provide them with another opportunity other than the standard spring break.”

The program started relatively small; students traveled to Florida and mentored young children with the Boys and Girls Club.

“We felt, if the program enticed students to help other people, we wanted to be able to take them somewhere warm in exchange,” Nally said.

When Nally took over the position, the group had just returned from Gulf Shores, Mississippi, where it worked on a restoration project after some major flooding. Nally took the position in December, leaving her only until March to plan a trip.

Nally took students back to Miami, Florida, to work with Habitat for Humanity. All in all, Nally has gone on nine trips. She had to stay behind in 2014 because of a broken ankle.

Since the Miami trip, students have traveled to Kissimmee and Orlando, Florida, New Orleans, the Dominican Republic, South Carolina, New York City, San Francisco, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

When planning trips, Nally receives help from other Universities across the nation.

“We rely on those partnerships and word of mouth to really decide where we want to go and what we want to do there,” Nally said. “When we went to New Orleans a few years ago, we weren’t the only college there… I can look at any school across the nation and see what it does.”

Larger schools, such as the University of Missouri, take roughly six trips a year. While Northwest does not have that financial capability, two trips were available for students in 2015. One group went to Puerto Rico with the Boys and Girls Club and the other went to New Orleans to work on more damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Most commonly, students work with Boys and Girls Club and the Homeless and Hungry. With Homeless and Hungry, students work to raise public awareness about homelessness and provide food and services for those who are homeless.

Each trip averages around 25-30 students in attendance. For the upcoming trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there are 39 students signed up.

This year’s trip is expected to cost students somewhere between $550-$600. Although the numbers seem high, Nally promises it can all be fundraised in the months leading up to the trip.

“On years we fly, have hotel fees, subways passes and have to find our own meals, it can get more expensive,” Nally said.

Nally’s passion for helping others began when she interned for the Special Olympics in California. Since then, she has been striving to change people’s lives.

“When this position opened up on campus, I jumped at it,” Nally said. “I am a physical work person. When we went to the Gulf Shores Restoration, we took fossilized oysters and we rebuilt oyster beds in the bay… For the students to see how one catastrophic thing can affect so many things in the environment, not only just humans, but also animals like mice, snakes and bugs, it ruins everything. Seeing a habitat rebuild and get better is just so inspiring and satisfying. I love to bring life back again.”

The average work day starts around 8 a.m. after students have eaten breakfast and traveled to their worksite. They work until 4 p.m., with a lunch break in between. Then students hit the showers, have dinner and enter into a time of reflection with their group. Each has a chance to share what was most impactful in his or her day.

Evenings are reserved for activities surrounding the culture. The fifth day of the trip is dedicated to entertainment and diving into the surrounding culture.

Shea Zion is a junior majoring in Interactive Digital Media and Computer Science, with a minor in Spanish. She has been going on Alternative Spring Breaks since her freshman year.

“My freshman year we went to New Orleans and worked with repairing homes and remodeling a community garden. Sophomore year we went to D.C. and worked with homeless shelters and soup kitchens,” Zion said. “My favorite memory so far has been giving back to others and seeing what a significant impact we have to the people of the communities we serve.”

Zion said Alternative Spring Break gave her the chance to travel and experience cultures she might not have before.

Senior Psychology and Sociology major Sarah Newton tells students not to worry about the cost. The fundraising done throughout the year nearly paid for her entire trip.

Newton went to Washington, D.C. this past spring.

“My favorite memory of the trip was when we made the service meal at Youth Services Opportunities Project’s main location,” Newton said. “We partnered with a middle school... and worked together to create a meal, make decorations and set up a dinner party for people experiencing homelessness. The best part was that we got to eat the meal with them and play games, too. I met some really interesting people and it was awesome to hear their stories.”

Although Newton cannot go on the Louisiana trip because she is graduating in December, she really encourages all Bearcats to try it out.

“Giving back to others is the best way to find yourself,” Newton said. “Not only did I learn so much from my Alternative Spring Break experience, but I also created some really great new friendships, too.”

Junior Elementary Education major Bailey Schomburg also remembers the dinner students set up in Washington, D.C. She found herself using skills she had obtained in her Deaf Studies minor.

“I was sitting with some people who were deaf and I was with another student on the trip with who was in Sign 3. At the time I was in Sign 1, and I wasn’t very confident with my signing. I watched the other student sign back and forth with one of the deaf men there,” Schomburg said. “It was very interesting to follow the conversation and, at the end of the night, I was given my sign name. As someone who is hearing, getting a sign name is like being accepted into the deaf community and it made that night amazing.”

It is not too late to sign up for the Baton Rouge trip. The deadline to sign up is Oct. 2 and applications are due Oct. 31.

Nally promises the experience will be worth it.

“It is life changing. People don’t believe me when I say that, but these students are not the same when they come back. I have seen so many students change. I have seen them change their majors; I have seen them passionate about things they weren’t before.

“They have experiences with issues they didn’t even know existed. They realized with the Homeless and Hungry that they are people just like we are and bad things have happened… Everyone you talk to has their reasons.”

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