Alternative spring break immerses students into social issues

By Nenad Tadic | Emory Report | March 15, 2012

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New Orleans is among the Alternative Spring Break destinations for Volunteer Emory students. Emory Photo/Video.

Not all Emory students are headed to the beach or back home for spring break, March 12-16. Through Volunteer Emory's Alternative Break Trips, a number of students will be traveling to seven different sites around the Midwest and the Southeast to lend a hand in service and help impact their communities.

Many Emory students have an "unbelievable passion for service and civic engagement," notes Natasha Hopkins, assistant director of the Office of Student Leadership and Service. Alternative Break Trips enhance the co-curricular experience "by placing service and leadership in the context of civic responsibility and awareness to the global community."

The volunteers' spring break destinations include Nashville, Tenn.; Brunswick, Ga.; Joplin, Mo.; New Orleans, La.; Chavies, Ky.; and two metro Atlanta locations.

The sites were chosen because of the social justice areas they cover, including poverty and homelessness; refugee and immigrant services; disaster relief and recovery; HIV/AIDS; and inequality, according to Volunteer Emory.

Students will be working with several agencies in Clarkston, Ga.—one of the Atlanta sites—as part of the Atlanta "staycation."

"With such a large immigrant community in metro Atlanta, Emory students will be immersed in a community that is largely unbeknownst," says Hopkins.

The other local site will deal with homelessness in Atlanta, says Hopkins. "The student staff organizing the homelessness challenge has a personal commitment to eradicating homelessness and putting in perspective the harsh reality of homelessness and poverty in Atlanta," she says.

Students will be immersed in a simulated homeless experience to raise their awareness of the issue.

The 12 "homelessness plunge" participants will start the five-day immersion experience with $10, a winter jacket, a blanket, old sneakers and a round trip MARTA card. They will be dropped off five miles from Emory's campus and will walk several miles every day to various homeless shelters and communicate with those who work and stay there.

At night, they will stay at a secure location outdoors to simulate a homeless experience. Community scholars and Emory staff will come in to discuss reflective writing and meditation exercises.

Emory College sophomore Karolina Leja is going on the New Orleans trip. Six years since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, restoration efforts are continuing.

Leja says she wants to be part of an organization that will help this effort in any way.

"I'm very interested in working with a group of individuals that share my same belief in serving others," Leja says.

The Emory volunteers will help build playgrounds, restore school buildings, and sort through recycled materials at a warehouse.

"Being part of an alternative spring break trip will give me a chance to make a meaningful, positive impact on my community," she adds.

Volunteer Emory also manages Fall Break trips, as well as weekly service trips throughout metro Atlanta sites during the academic year.