As Spring Break 2018 approaches for college students around the country, many students dream of rest and home-cooked meals, others of a warm beach and ‘getting away from it all.’
A group of Austin College students has another plan: they will use the break from classes to volunteer through the College’s Alternative Spring Break program, organized each year by the school’s Service Station. A team of 30 students, plus Ryan Felix, assistant professor of chemistry, and Andrea Restrepo, coordinator of volunteer services, will travel to the hub of Cajun heritage in Lafayette, Louisiana, to help rebuild the flood-damaged area. The group will be hosted by First Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, and work with the relief organization Rebuilding Together Acadiana. The effort was planned and coordinated through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
“Many people think of New Orleans when they’re considering flood relief in Louisiana,” Restrepo said, “but the smaller, outlying communities, such as Lafayette, were caught completely off guard by the 2016 flood. More than 4,400 homes were damaged or destroyed, and many of the affected areas were not covered by insurance. There is still much work to be done there.”
Austin College’s Alternative Spring Break program, now in its 26th year, was endowed by a gift from First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth in 2017. The program allows students to serve others and develop new bonds of friendship during their break. In recent years, flood and tornado devastation in Texas and nearby states has created numerous needs for relief work. The Service Station, led by a student board of 15 to 20 members, is an outreach of the Religious Life Program at Austin College.
In addition to Alternative Spring Break, Austin College students volunteer an estimated 16,000 hours each year, recorded and often coordinated by the Service Station. The board connects willing volunteers with hundreds of regional service opportunities, tutoring for area school-age children, monthly on-campus educational programming for school-age children, and an annual fundraiser for TOSTAN, a grass-roots community education effort based in Senegal, Africa. A number of campus-wide volunteer programs are offered throughout the year, as well as individual projects and group work completed by many student organizations on campus, most with service elements in their charters.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 40 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of approximately 1,275 students and a faculty of more than 100 allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. The College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.