For spring break — instead of going home or going on a cruise — two groups of Penn State students are choosing to repair homes in Atlantic City, N.J., or Brenton, W. Va.
Alternative Spring Break started five years ago when a group of students traveled to Appalachia West Virginia, Program Director of Student Activities Jeff Zapletal said. Every year since, the Student Activities Office has funded the trip, so a group of students could spend their spring break time for service in West Virginia.
This year is the first year that Alternative Spring Break has two groups, Zapletal said. Each group has three student leaders and 15 student volunteers, Alternative Spring Break Coordinator Sapphire Wang said.
The West Virginia group of students will repair a house assigned by Appalachia Service Project, Wang (senior-finance and Spanish) said. The family whose house is assigned applied to Appalachia Service Project for the repair and is chosen based on a range of factors, Alternative Spring Break Leader Elise Boretz said. During the trip, the students have the opportunity to explore the surrounding area, including going to a coal mine, Wang said.
Zapletal said the students have the opportunity to learn about the communities. Many students know New Jersey but rural West Virginia will be a culture shock, Zapletal said.
The Fuller Center for Housing will assign the New Jersey group a house that has been damaged by Superstorm Sandy, Wang said. The group will have the opportunity to tour the surrounding city, Wang said.
The Fuller Center for Housing will provide the group with a three-bedroom house that also has a kitchen, Wang said. It is the students’ responsibility to supply their own food, Wang said.
Every night after work, the groups will have a reflection period where the students complete activities and have discussions on what happened that day and what has been learned, Alternative Spring Break Leader Liz Basso said.
“You see a light go off in people’s head on how much they enjoy service,” Basso (sophomore-supply chain management) said.
Boretz (sophomore-nutrition science) said Penn State has a strong focus on philanthropy but little emphasis on getting “down and dirty.” Boretz said Alternative Spring Break is a different experience than opportunities like the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Council Dance Marathon because the students are part of the building process.
“In many cases, money is not what [the families] need or money without labor doesn’t get you anywhere,” Zapletal said.
Zapletal said he is excited about the students having experiences that are discussed in class, as he said the students on the trip go through the process of questioning issues of equality, socioeconomic crisis and justice.
And Wang said these discussions coupled with the first-hand experience helps to shape a different perspective.
“Your view of people completely changes,” Wang said. “[You] learn a different perspective.”
The trip is $85 per student, and the Student Activities Office provides the majority of the cost for the trips, Zapletal said.
There are other spring break service trips available at Penn State, but due to cost, the trips are not accessible to all students, Zapletal said.
Currently, the student leaders are choosing the volunteers to go on the trips, Wang said. Around 50 applications were submitted and 30 will be accepted, Wang said.
And for those 30 students who take part, Zapletal said their perspective will forever be changed.
“Within one week, [the students] have the opportunity to change someone’s life,” Zapletal said.