Alternative spring break program proves success

While most students enjoyed a relaxing spring break at home or at the beach, a group of eight students opted to stay on campus during break in order to perform service projects around Macon.
This “Alternative Spring Break” was Garret McDowell’s senior service project, and for four days his group worked mostly with Habitat for Humanity in order to reach out to the community.
The idea came to McDowell after he went to a service-learning conference called Gulf-South Summit.
While at the conference, he met students from Clemson University, where there is an alternative spring break program.
Rather than leaving for break, these students stayed on campus doing community service.
“I kind of got the idea it would be great for Macon,” said McDowell, saying that it would be a great way to get students involved in the Macon community.
One of the projects the students worked on was at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Holt Avenue, which sells donated home improvement supplies at low prices.
The ReStore is currently converting an old plumbing supply room into a conference room where banquets and events can take place, and where volunteer groups can gather.
“We scraped up tile, we tore down insulation and ceiling tiles, we took out all the dry wall and the insulation out of that, and then we swept it all up and left that place pretty clean,” said junior Brittani Howell, who decided to join the group a couple weeks before spring break.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the students worked at a house on Roy Avenue. They painted and completed mostly cosmetic work to prepare the house for a new family.
The group of eight students also made and delivered care packages for the Rainbow Center, an HIV/AIDS relief program.
Each night, the students met for dinner and a debriefing, where they discussed the day’s projects.
The students talked about what worked and what did not work, so as to make future alternative spring breaks even more successful.
In the future, McDowell hopes to do community service projects Monday through Friday of spring break, and leave the weekends open for free time. McDowell also plans to establish a committee within Local Engagement Against Poverty (LEAP) which will oversee the Alternative Spring Break Program.
About the projects, McDowell said, “We definitely did a few new projects which will help kind of open LEAP’s doors even more.”
Use of the trolley system is also an aspiration for future alternative spring breaks, and McDowell wants more of Macon to be involved.
If alternative spring break occurs every year, it will expand what LEAP does for the community.
“Since we’re making it longer…we’ll have a day that is not meant for service. It will be more like a fun day,” added McDowell.
The goal of a service-oriented spring break is to get students involved in service projects, and to get students involved in Macon itself.
McDowell hopes that an alternative spring break program will lessen the disconnect between Mercerians and Macon.
McDowell was very pleased at how successful the inaugural year was. There were no major problems, and what problems there were will be easily corrected in years to come.
“I hope it does become a tradition,” said Howell, who thinks a program such as alternative spring break is a good way for students to get involved and meet students from other universities who come to Macon for service projects.
“It was just a fun opportunity,” Howell said.