This past spring break, as has become tradition for Plattsburgh State, students seized the opportunity from the Student Involvement Center to volunteer at several different locations along the East Coast.
PSUC graduate student Scott Sheehan and junior Ally Centola led one of these groups, consisting of nine other fraternity and sorority members, to Pursglove, West Virginia, where they volunteered their vacation to The Shack, a community center where local children spend time before and after school while their parents are working.
“We would wake up around 6:30 a.m., go play with the kids at the center until they went to school,” Sheehan said. “When they got back, we would help them with their homework, make sure they got their meal and we’d play with them until their parents came to pick them up.”
While the children were at school, the group would spend the days working to make The Shack a better environment for all that use the facility by raking the yards, pulling weeds from the gardens, cleaning the gutters, moving wood piles and any other jobs the site requested of them.
Time was also spent working on different projects to make the children’s time at the center more fun, such as creating giant games for the kids to play. Sheehan’s favorite was the giant Plinko he made.
“The entire state of West Virginia is economically suppressed, so a lot of children go there,” Sheehan said about the center. “For some of them, the meal they get is going to be the only meal they get that day, so it is a really important program for the community.”
According to the PSUC website, the mission of Alternative Spring Break is to provide students with the opportunities to engage in intensive service experiences with communities in need during campus break, and, through reflective activities, promote civic engagement, leadership development and appreciation of diversity.
PSUC Student Involvement Center Director Cori Jackson said ASB is an opportunity to visit a new place, learn new skills and meet new people, all while helping a community in need.
As co-site leaders, Sheehan and Centola’s responsibilities were to keep the crew motivated, to reflect on the experience and to have fun while helping others.
This year, PSUC students were also sent to Connecticut, North Carolina and South Carolina, among other locations.
PSUC sophomore Dina Farina volunteered on the trip to North Carolina and said the best part of her experience, besides the warm weather, was the Southern hospitality of other volunteers who were helping with the same cause.
“Alternative Spring Break is important because it gives people a chance to volunteer, but it also gives them the opportunity to remember how important it is to pay it forward,” Farina said.
One commonality between all of the ASB locations was the intense bonding between the groups of PSUC students and the locals they were helping.
“For me, the best part of it all is watching the students get close to the people they were working with in that short period of time,” Jackson said. “It was amazing how emotionally attached the students were to everyone that was involved and how much they learn about themselves.”
For Visalaakshi Gowrishankar, an Indian international student who studies at PSUC, said one of her favorite parts about her trip to Connecticut for Habitat for Humanity was how she and her group had a chance to be a part of something bigger than ASB.
“It took Habitat in Connecticut 30 years to get to the level they are right now in credibility and how they help people,” Gowrishankar said. “They are going to be having an anniversary for building their 200th home in Connecticut, so that was something really nice to be a part of.”
Jackson said numbers of applicants “wildly vary” from year to year, but there are generally the same number of spots available for these “life-changing trips.” She said it is an eye-opener for those who haven’t traveled to see communities that are in intense need of help from programs such as ASB.
“I think every person on this campus should do it,” Gowrishankar said. “I have never met anyone that has told me not to do it, and that’s because it is an incredible experience.”
Every year, applications become available in late October for the following spring break. Students looking for opportunities to volunteer all year long can visit Project HELP in the Student Involvement Center, located on the first floor of the Angell College Center.
Email Lisa Scivolette at firstname.lastname@example.org