Debbie Edwards

While most of the college student population hit the slopes or the beach this spring break, a few UTD students found relaxation in public service.?Twenty-nine students and four advisors journeyed to Kansas, Mississippi and Texas to help others as part of Alternative Spring Break (ASB). ?The Hope Haven Emergency Shelter for Abused and Neglected Children in Bay St. Louis, Miss., is just a half-hour drive from New Orleans, a more conventional spring break destination. Site Leader Geoff Knapp, a molecular biology senior, said it was a rewarding experience in the tiny seaside town.?The Mississippi group performed building and grounds maintenance for the shelter, pulling weeds, painting parts of the building and replacing sand in the playground. Knapp said they also had a surprise donation of four truckloads of gravel to resurface the driveway.?”This guy just stopped and asked if we needed it when he saw the driveway,” Knapp said.?Knapp said the students were treated as local heroes. Shelter Director Terry Latham organized free lodging and discounts at area businesses.?The local newspaper even published an article about the work being done by the students.?And all this for only $25 per person. UTD paid for the rest, Knapp said.?Eight other students chose amber waves of grain over the seashores by assisting nuns in a low-income area of Lawrence, Kan. ?UTD Coordinator of Disabilities Services and group adviser Kerry Tate said her students prepared a low-rent house for battered women and a community garden for spring planting for the sisters of St. Joseph’s Convent.?”Everyone was a team player,” Tate said. “They wanted to make sure the work was completed.”?Tate said UTD is the first university group the sisters allowed to stay in the convent building. She was fascinated by the extraordinary women who dedicated their lives to assisting the poor.?”I would have never dreamed of going there,” Tate said. “But now I would like for us to do it next year.”?In Wichita, Kan., another group of six UTD students had a different service experience at the Pélathé Community Research Center, a transition center for low-income Native American families. Site Leader Melissa Leong, a sophomore business administration major, cleared storage space, tilled a field and conducted a successful food drive for the center’s nearly empty food pantry.?Leong said she was impressed with the pride the center inhabitants took in their heritage.?”The best part was seeing how proud they were of their Native American culture and heritage,” Leong said. “You didn’t have to ask, they just told you.”?In Texas, seven students went to Elm Mott outside of Waco to work on the World Hunger Relief, Inc. farm. Intended to educate missionaries in third-world farming techniques, Student Media Advisor Jay Miller said it was interesting to see how the farmers integrated everything.?”We used a composting toilet,” Miller said. “It was like an indoor outhouse, but it didn’t smell as bad as you’d think.” ?Miller said his group worked on the farm dismantling a roof, rounding up chickens, planting crops and slaughtering a ram. He said the way the students reacted to the slaughter was the most interesting part of the week.?”(The students’) eyes were like silver dollars,” Miller said. “I think we created a few vegetarians that day.”?The farmers were impressed with the work ethic and quality of the students, Miller said. He added that some of his group plan to return to the farm in late April to check on their crops.?Service Learning Coordinator Jacqueline Shi, a junior economics and finance major, was a member of the Lawrence group and organized the logistics starting in October of last year. UTD’s membership in Break Away, a national organization that acts as a bridge between students and charity organizations, enabled her to find spring break destinations of interest to ASB participants.?Shi said that just about anyone enrolled at UTD can go on ASB and even the $25 per student fee can be worked around, if necessary. ?She added that she has seen increased interest in ASB since this year’s participants have returned and expects more students to choose ASB next year instead of the usual sun and snow.