Spring Break More Than Just Fun in the Sun

Thursday, March 22, 2012
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UNH students worked building a house in Pittsboro, North Carolina, during spring break.

UNH students worked building a house in Pittsboro, North Carolina, during spring break.

Matthew Toms spent his spring break in the Dominican Republic with students from the social work class he teaches. Professor Bill Ross took his students to New Orleans. Exercise science major Ashley Muse went to North Carolina, and junior Ryan Ormsby headed to Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. None of them, however, were going on vacation. Instead they were giving up their week off to do community service work for people in need.

Every year, scores of UNH students forgo sunny beaches and the chance to kick back and relax so they can work with Habitat for Humanity, or at inner-city daycares, or with other groups who benefit from free labor. They majority of them connect with UNH’s Alternative Break Challenge (UNH-ABC), the student-led organization that organizes the volunteer trips.

During the week of March 12, ABC had 126 students on 14 trips working in more than 10 cities, doing everything from painting walls and trim to pounding nails to raking leaves to playing with children in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

“If you love building houses, helping kids and meeting new people, ABC is definitely for you,” Ormsby says. “Being involved with ABC is honestly one of the things I will really come out of college preaching about. I would not spend my spring break any other way.”

Ten of this year’s ABC trips had students connecting with Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge. One trip took students to an inner-city daycare in East St. Louis, Illinois, and another to work on the Appalachian Trail in Dahlonega, Georgia. Two groups went to help the National Park Service cleanup the national seashore of Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Muse joined ABC as a freshman. The next year she applied to be an executive member of organization so she could help plan and create the trips. Working with Habitat for Humanity has been eye-opening, especially when she volunteered with the non-profit homebuilders in Kentucky where she met an elderly man whose home had no running water.

“Everyone understands the term poverty but when you experience it, the meaning will change forever in your mind,” says Muse, a junior who spent last week in Pittsboro, North Carolina. “Working with Habitat, you're physically changing the lives of people. Even if you never hit one nail, painting a porch or raking someone’s yard means the world to them because without volunteers, they would not have a home and everyone deserves a home.”

Muse and Ormsby were two of the five executive leaders charged with planning and organizing this year’s ABC trips. The months and weeks leading up to spring break were spent fundraising, recruiting students and trip leaders, hosting information sessions, and scheduling the sites to visits.

“Sometimes my head felt as if it was on overtime all of the time, but in the end it was completely worth it,” says Ormsby, a nursing major.

Adds Muse, “For me, it’s such a rewarding experience, and each time is completely different. I love traveling and meeting new people and both ABC and Habitat for Humanity allow me to do that while giving back to the community.”

This was the sixth spring break that Bill Ross and students from his "New Orleans: Place, Meaning, and Context" class spent working with Habitat for Humanity in Louisiana. During the day they helped remodel homes. Evenings and weekends were spent in the Big Easy where they learned about the city’s history and culture firsthand.

“Being there is a very different experience than talking about it in the classroom,” says Ross, head of the Milne Special Collections and Archives. “The trip is a unique bonding experience for the students. When we come back, the class has changed.”

Toms agrees, saying, “Students come back with a greater sense of self, a better idea of what poverty looks like, and friendships.”