By Chelsea LoCascio
While some students spent time with family over break, others found a new one while driving across the country, building houses for Hurricane Katrina victims or giving ill children an unforgettable experience.
“You are thrown into an amazing and adventurous situation with people who want to make the world a little better through volunteering,” said Ashley Fuzak, a sophomore history and secondary education double major and executive vice president of Alternative Break Club.
Rather than work, watch television or sleep in like many students at the College this break, members of ABC spent Monday, Jan. 3 to Sunday, Jan. 11 driving nearly 20 hours to volunteer in either New Orleans, La. or Kissimmee, Fla.
Among the 90 volunteers that went to New Orleans, Jeremy Nevitt, a senior graphic design major and president of ABC, said they worked with a non-profit organization called Project Homecoming to rebuild houses and communities. The volunteers had various jobs throughout the week, such as installing hardwood floors, tiling and painting the nearly finished houses.
The 15 volunteers in Kissimmee worked with the nonprofit Give Kids the World and built hope instead of homes, for terminally ill children wanting to experience the fun of amusement parks and attractions without the burdensome costs.
“We helped with GKTW’s mission of making the families’ experience be as magical and amazing (as) possible,” said Fuzak. “We could be doing anything from helping serve breakfast and dinner, scooping ice cream, delivering food in golf carts to the villas, to running the enchanted castle or the carousel. We also helped with the nighttime activities.”
The families were housed in GKTW’s village with over 200 villas, according to Fuzak.
The volunteers in New Orleans, however, lived in what Project Homecoming dubbed “Volunteer Village,” said Nevitt.
“We really were a little village of college kids, cooking meals and doing daily chores,” said Carey Davidson, a sophomore biology major. “I think the reason everyone gets so close during these trips is because there is no escape; you sleep, eat, work, clean and drive around with them for (almost) 10 days straight. You either talk and get to know each other or work in silence for a week and I think (or) hope most people choose the former.”
In their free time, new friendships grew during outings to local jazz bars or historical sites and tasting cuisine in New Orleans cafes. In Florida, members grew closer on rides at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, at Universal Studios or while watching a Cirque du Soleil show.
“Whether it was bonding during dinner or strolling down Bourbon St., there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t having fun,” Ruth Tyan, a sophomore nursing major said. “However, other than just having fun, we took a driving tour of the various parts of New Orleans affected by the hurricane. Seeing the rebuilt neighborhoods and hearing about what had happened definitely gave me more perspective on what I was actually doing in New Orleans. It was amazing to see how resilient the people of New Orleans are.”
Nevitt encourages those who are interested to sign up for the trip in March and open their minds to different experiences and perspectives, while helping others and having fun with new friends.