Program to Turn Vacations Into Service Opportunities

October 12, 2003

Lynn Rice, <i>Hullabaloo</i> staff writer

Tulane students seeking to give back to the community instead of taking a vacation during off time from school now have options through a partnership with Break Away: The Alternative Break Connection. The alternative break program provides students with resources and training for extensive community service, offering a support network of other colleges, non-profit groups and individuals to which members can turn for guidance.

"This program is one that is intended to be run by students, for students. It should be able to exist whether the staff is present or not," Hamilton Simons-Jones, director of community services coordination and head of Tulane's new alternative break program, said.

Tulane students met for the first alternative break general planning meeting on Tuesday night. The group of students brainstormed a variety of possible service projects for the upcoming spring break. Under the direction of Simons-Jones and three other staff ambassadors: Director of the Office of Environmental Affairs Liz Davey, TIDES Program Manager Penny Wyath and Area Director for Housing and Residence Life Alicia Battle, the group discussed the feasibility of their ideas.

The students expressed particular interest in projects pertaining to environmental degradation and Native American issues. The group determined it would be best to perform the first project on a local scale, feeling it important and necessary to strengthen ties with the surrounding community. Students and staff ambassadors were pleased with the evening's dialogue.

"I thought this program would be one in which there were specific trips that students signed up to be a part of. Instead, this program empowers students to create their own service trips," Newcomb sophomore Jenny Daniel said. "This has tremendous potential, and I look forward to seeing how the project develops."

A number of the students present volunteered to undergo an intensive weekend training session through which they would obtain the credentials to lead a community service group. Others volunteered to research possible affiliate organizations that might be able to partner with the first project. All ascertained the next important step was to build student interest by encouraging students, both graduate and undergraduate from many areas of the University, to engage in this project.

Simons Jones said, "I sense a lot of interest and commitment in this group of students and feel that they will be able to carry the program through as it is intended." The students agreed to do their research, "spread the word" and reconvene for their second general meeting Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. in the President's room of the University Center.

Break Away: The Alternative Break Connection, Inc. was founded at Vanderbilt University in 1991. The organization's goal is to connect concerned students interested in making a difference with nonprofit agencies in need of volunteers. The group has grown from a small conglomeration of universities offering a limited number of trips to a network of 80 colleges, 200 nonprofit agencies and hundreds of individuals. Projects are diverse, addressing several social issues including environmental degradation, hunger, homelessness and literacy. Most agree there is great potential for this program to thrive and expand at Tulane, but much work is needed.

"I would like to see this program expand to the point that over every break, and even some weekends, there are several different trip options addressing a variety of different issues," Simons-Jones said. "A program of this nature would allow us to establish ongoing relationships with the communities with which we work, and that is powerful. There is a lot of power in intensive community service."

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