WMU News

Students spend spring break volunteering

Feb. 21, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- While their classmates enjoy tropical vacations or lounge at home, 144 Western Michigan University students will spend their spring break volunteering at sites around the nation.

The contingent departs from campus Friday, Feb. 23, to participate in "Alternative Spring Break," a student-run program that will dispatch the student volunteers to 12 U.S. cities. Their experiences will range from working with an AIDS Foundation in Texas to cleaning up an arboretum in Pennsylvania.

Now in its 10th year at the University, Alternative Spring Break matches students with positive volunteer experiences where they learn the value of community service. Under the umbrella of WMU's Student Volunteer Services in the Lee Honors College, the program encourages students to leave their familiar surroundings and experience a drastically different environment.

Students will be: working with an AIDS Foundation in San Antonio; helping international refugees acclimate to American culture in Nashville, Tenn.; cleaning up and helping to preserve the grounds at Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia; working with children in classrooms with the Association to Benefit Children in New York; helping out a nursing home and an after-school program for at-risk children in Washington, D.C.; addressing urban poverty and homelessness with an advocacy group in Atlanta; interacting with children and sprucing up the building that's home to a Boys & Girls Club in Jacksonville, Fla.; working to combat rural poverty in Alamosa, Colo.; addressing environmental issues in Hammond, La.; working at a shelter for abused women and children in Shiprock, N.M.; and helping the homeless in Portsmouth, N.H., and Cleveland.

Since it was first launched with 12 students at one site in 1992, Alternative Spring Break at WMU has grown in popularity to the point where interest far outstrips the program's capacity. Participants are selected on the basis of motivation, the degree of realism in their expectations and previous volunteer experience -- program coordinators seek both those with extensive and very limited volunteer experience. Flexibility, acceptance of diversity and the ability to make a significant time commitment to the program also were important selection criteria. Those who are not accepted into the program are placed on an alternate list in the event that other participants are unable to fulfill their commitment.

Students have been meeting since last fall and have attended training sessions designed to prepare them for their volunteer experience. The sessions have incorporated team building, group dynamics and issue area training, as well as presentations and workshops by community members familiar with the volunteer sites or issues.

Students pay $150 each to cover part of the cost of the trip. This money, along with funding from the University, makes the trips possible.

Following their return to campus, the students will plan and execute "ripple effect" service projects, during which they'll apply the lessons of their national experience to the greater Kalamazoo community.

For more information about Alternative Spring Break, members of the media may contact Ali Wood at (616) 373-9176, Jessica Andersen at (616) 384-5186, or Andrea Rader at (616) 353-7039.

Media contact: Jessica English, 616 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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