Alternative Spring Break: Giving Back Instead of Kicking Back

BY: AMY PATTON AND BRIANNA FOUNTAIN-FENNELL

Most Cal State Long Beach students spend spring break sleeping in, partying with friends, and spending hours at the beach, yet a select few will go on the Student Life and Development Center’s Alternative Spring Break to leave the Beach for the Bayou. For senior Lauren Thompson, a double major in family life education and child development, a week in New Orleans is more than just a vacation. Through the efforts of Habitat for Humanity, students and faculty will volunteer their time to rebuild houses that still suffer from post Hurricane Katrina and Rita.

Thompson has been involved in community service for the past several years. She has never been to New Orleans and saw this as an opportunity for a “community service vacation.” Thompson is involved in Make a Difference Day, Aids Walk, and high school outreach programs. She looks forward to New Orleans’ food, people, energy and its vibe.

“I expect to learn about a new culture and feel good after helping the people there,” Thompson said.

For previous volunteer, senior Tyler Williams, a criminal justice and psychology major, her experience in 2010 was humbling. She helped rebuild a house and was taught how to drywall, paint, and install drains.

“It was as bad as they said it was,” Williams said. “Houses were still affected even years later.”

The trip is about more than just volunteering though. While on the trip, Williams got the chance to participate in a local impromptu peace parade. She recommends for anyone going on the trip to take everything in and be grateful.

“People will come back more appreciative,” Williams said.

A week in New Orleans is packed with educational tours and housing restorations. Volunteers arrive on Sunday and spend the evening relaxing. They visit the French Quarter and learn about the science behind the storm while taking a tour of the damage of the levees and the 9th Ward. Tuesday through Thursday, they team up with Habitat for Humanity to work with the homeless on abandoned houses. On Friday they visit an Indian Reservation located directly on the Bayou. Living entirely off the land, their way of life was devastated even years later because their ecosystem was destroyed and did not receive federal assistance.

Director of the Student Life and Development Center, Brett Waterfield, has participated in the Spring Break trip since 2006 and has committed himself to go every year. The ultimate goal of the program is to teach students to reflect on their own values when confronted with extreme human suffering.

“There is progression, but my first experience rocked my world,” Waterfield said. “Calendars were still on August 2005 even a year after the hurricane hit.”

To get into the program applicants had to fill out the application and were interviewed by a panel of faculty. Thompson recommends having an on-campus reference. During the interview, applicants are asked questions about their community service involvement, understanding of the hurricane, and why they want to go. Juniors and seniors are often favored for the program since their opportunity is limited.

“You want to make sure your application is up to par,” Thompson said.

Students can apply in the fall semester and once selected, must enroll in University 300I, which fulfills the GE Capstone: Human Diversity. This is a class revolving around the politics of the hurricane aftermath. What students learn in the classroom will be amplified by their contributions to rebuilding New Orleans. Program members leave March 31 and return April 6.