WMU News

Students spend spring break volunteering at 11 sites

February 24, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Instead of working on their tans, some 150 students from Western Michigan University will be working on their volunteer skills during this year's spring break.

The contingent will depart from campus Friday, Feb. 27, to participate in "Alternative Spring Break" at 11 sites located in nine states and Mexico. The volunteers will be engaged in activities ranging from working with migrant farm workers in Florida to helping the homeless in Cleveland.

Alternative Spring Break is a service-oriented initiative that provides students with an opportunity to participate in a positive volunteer experience while learning the importance of community service. Sponsored by WMU's Student Volunteer Services, the program encourages students to leave their familiar surroundings and discover some very different experiences.

Now in its seventh year at WMU, Alternative Spring Break continues to draw more student volunteers each year. The first program in 1992 consisted of only 12 students and one site.

For the first time this year, the students will be expanding their activities into the international arena. One group will be traveling to Tijuana, Mexico, where they will work with the homeless and poor through Sarah House. Other volunteers will be: working with migrant farm workers in Florida City, Fla.; exploring environmental issues at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; working through Helping Hands with the rural poor in Corbin, Ky.; assisting with the disabled through Volunteers for America in New Orleans; volunteering with the homeless through Part of the Solution and with people suffering from AIDS through Stand Up Harlem in New York City; helping the homeless and urban poor through the Catholic Worker in Cleveland; working through Head Start with children of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Okla.; assisting Bosnian, Serbian and Cuban refugees through the Refugee Resettlement Program in Nashville; working with disabled children at the Sarah House in Washington, D.C.; and repairing rural homes in Caroline County, Va., with the Ivanhoe Civic League/Volunteers for Communities.

Participants in Alternative Spring Break were selected on the basis of their motivation, the degree of realism in their expectations of the program and previous volunteer experience. The coordinators of the program also were looking for people who had never volunteered before to give them a very unique volunteering experience. Flexibility, acceptance of diversity and the ability to make the time commitments to the program also were important criteria in the selection process.

Students have been meeting since November and have attended eight training sessions designed to prepare them for the ventures to their sites. The sessions have incorporated team building, group dynamics and issue area training as well as presentations and workshops by WMU faculty members and professionals from community agencies.

Each student is expected to pay $150 to cover part of the costs of the trip. This money, along with funding from WMU's Student Budget Allocation Committee, Office of the President and Student Volunteer Services, made the trips possible.

Although the actual trip will end on Saturday, March 7, the students' dedication to increased community service will continue. When the students return to campus, they will participate in local community service activities related to their spring break experiences.

MEDIA ADVISORY: The students participating in this year's Alternative Spring Break will gather for a send-off ceremony from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, in Rooms 208-209 of the Bernhard Center. Following the ceremony, the students will climb into vans for trips to the various locations. To confirm or arrange coverage, contact Richard Meldrum, publicist for the program, at (616) 387-7931 or Ruth Stevens, Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, at (616) 387-8411.

Media contact: Ruth Stevens; ruth.stevens@wmich.edu

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