For 10 SUNY New Paltz students, this past spring break didn’t involve basking in the sun and sipping fruity alcoholic beverages. It instead was a different kind of break, an ‘Alternative Spring Break.’
“This program was for students to stay here in New Paltz to do volunteer work during their spring break,” said Erica Wagner, service-learning coordinator of the Career Resource Center. “Instead of going to a sunny beach to party or to just go home and having nothing else to do, students had this opportunity to benefit their community.”
During this one week, students developed team building and leadership skills as well as volunteering with New Paltz Youth Program, Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption, Habitat for Humanity and Queen’s Galley Soup Kitchen.
“I think it was important for students to ‘give where you live’,” said Alexandra Saba, second year psychobiology major. “Sometimes people in the community have negative feelings about college students and this was an opportunity to show we aren’t always on our cell phones and that we really do care.”
Students first participated in interactive team building and leadership activities. One game was called the ‘Game of Life,’ where people from the Student Affairs division on campus showed students how stereotyping could keep people down in the working world. Students were given a certain race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and had to deal with the stereotypes involved.
“We normally don’t experience this because we are in college and not really trying to get a job,” said Kara McDermott, fourth year English major. “It was interesting to see what people could go through, especially if you are dealing with people that are rude and racist.”
Another was Playspent.org, an online game that simulated the life of those in poverty and students had to learn how to distribute money and get through a month of living at the poverty level.
“You lost your house, your job and had only $1000 to make it through the month,” said Pamela Alverez, fourth year production major. “It simulated the feeling really well of trying to survive with all the difficult and different things coming up in life.”
After the interactive games, students cleaned up, swept and painted rooms in the New Paltz Youth Program center. At the Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption, students played with dogs and puppies. Students also demolished and did some restoring construction work for the facility of the Ulster County Habitat for Humanity. They also helped cook and serve lunch/dinner at the Queens Galley Soup Kitchen as well as a collection of goods and money at Shop Rite. They extraordinarily collected $409 and 333 items totaling 399 lbs of food, which was donated to the Queens Galley Soup Kitchen.
Charlene Martoni, third year journalism and secondary education major,walked away with a strong bond with her 10 new friends. They all plan to keep volunteering together in the future.
“The most memorable part was the last day where we reflected on all of the volunteer work we did and how close the group had gotten,” said Martoni. “It was amazing to see how genuine all of our relationships were because they were formed through a challenging experience of volunteer work.”
Martoni believes that volunteering was difficult at times, yet productive, inspirational and memorable. She encourages other students to get out and do the same.
“I think it’s important for students to specifically volunteer because it helps them grow as people while positively affecting their community,” said Martoni. “It’s always good to try new things and what you give will come back to you in some other way.”
Students can learn more about volunteering by making an appointment at the Career Resource Center with Erica M. Wagner. For more information email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Career Resource Center at (845) 257-3265.