Spring Break week for many college students means time on a beach, maybe a visit to New York City, or a week of sleep and TV. For 32 Austin College students and four sponsors, Spring Break meant a week of volunteerism as part of Alternative Spring Break sponsored by the Austin College Service Station. The group was gone March 8 through 14.
The students and sponsors traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, where they joined college students from around the country for the volunteer effort. The volunteers lived together at St. Jude Community Center in the French Quarter of the city. The center has housed many volunteers in the city, but also operates as a Catholic ministry; students had to be out of the center early each morning so meals could be served for the homeless and needy.
The Austin College students worked with Green Light New Orleans. They dug six-inch-deep four-foot by four-foot areas and built raised beds for small backyard gardens so that the residents and their neighbors would have access to fresh vegetables. The effort also reduces the carbon footprint since vegetables would not have to be shipped and trucked in from far away. The Austin College group prepared 17 gardens throughout the week, attempting to work between rain storms.
The second project was going into homes to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) bulbs. During the week, the Austin College students installed more than 1,100 CFL bulbs in homes. They also were able to tell residents about the electricity cost savings they would see, as well as the environmental benefits—conserving 451,918 kilowatt hours and reducing carbon dioxide production by 512,000 pounds. Meanwhile, the students heard many stories about residents’ lives and their experiences in Katrina and beyond.
Through Green Light New Orleans, groups also made reusable feminine pads for young women in Africa. Many girls are forced to miss school during menstruation due to lack of feminine hygiene products.
Nancy Morgan, director of volunteer services at Austin College, said some students initially voiced concern that they weren’t doing the same level of work of building houses or making home repairs that had been done on previous ASB trips, but the interaction students had with local residents soon changed their outlooks.
Students commented on the economic disparity of lifestyles they saw in the city but were moved by the fact that people remained positive and open even after hardship. One Austin College student commented on having grown up on the poorer side of the neighborhood, and “it really brought me back to my roots. I definitely will go home and appreciate my family and my parents more for working out of poverty. It was also really cool to see how small changed can make a big impact, especially in the environmental impact. My mom keeps asking me to plant her a garden now, so I think I’ll tell her I’ll plant her one if she changed all our light bulbs to CFLs.”
Nesh Maniam said he went on Austin College’s ASB to Moore, Oklahoma, as a freshman and now plans to participate each year until he graduates. “Spending your Spring Break doing volunteer work teaches you a lot about patience and gratitude,” he said. “It was truly an incredible experience this year due to the interactions I had with the residents of the city. The people of New Orleans are resilient, proud, and grateful for all the work we did. There is no greater way to make an impact on a community than to give up your personal time. I think that everyone should do at least one Alternative Spring Break; the experience is honestly life-changing. I mean, what else would you do—spend it at home or on a beach?”
Freshman Pranav Sheth participated in his first ASB, but has determined it won’t be his last. The trip also provided his first visit to New Orleans. “It was eye-opening how even after Hurricane Katrina, the spirit among the people was high, and it seemed like nothing could break them down. That spirit was inspirational to me, and made me realize that I shouldn’t complain over small, everyday problems.”
Of course, students did a little sightseeing in the city and enjoyed the traditional visit to Café Du Monde; they also struggled with soggy weather, close living quarters, and van rides. And, like every student group before them, they received an added bonus from the trip. “You meet new people that you form really close ties with in just one week,” Pranav said. “I signed up with five of my closest friends–but finished the trip with 32 close friends.”
The four sponsors on the trip were Nancy Morgan, coordinator of volunteer services; Ryan Felix, visiting assistant professor of chemistry; Lisa Brown, professor of psychology; and Ryan Britt, director of development.
Student participants in ASB 2015 are listed below:
Mia Addisu of Garland, Texas, daughter of Sosina Araya;
Parsa Azam of Plano, Texas, daughter of Khurshid and Salina Azam;
Vana Bahram of McKinney, Texas, a daughter of Ala and Ghazy Bahram;
Huma Butta of Garland, Texas, daughter of Parveen and Butta Masih;
Jaime Cervantes of Farmers Branch, Texas, son of Jaime Cervantes;
Madeline Cohn of Pottsboro, Texas, daughter of George and Selina Nabholtz and Lew Cohn;
Nina Ding of Beijing, CHINA, daughter of Yan Gao and Jian Ding;
Riley Heruska of Fairview, Texas, daughter of Thomas and Jennifer Heruska;
Teju Koka of Sugar Land, Texas, daughter of Srinivas Koka and Sreevalli Koka;
Samira Lavingia of Plano, Texas, daughter of Fatim Lavingia and Zahir Lavingia;
Minhua Li of Fuzhou, Fujian, CHINA, daughter of Dr. Yanjuan Lin and Dr. Zengqi Li;
Kevin Mai of Arlington, Texas, son of John Mai and Louann Nguyen;
Ganesh Maniam of The Woodlands, Texas, son of Drs. Bala and Santhi Maniam;
Vidur Marwaha of Frisco, Texas, son of Samir and Aparna Marwaha;
Daniel Medford of Kilgore, Texas, son of Donny and Carolyn Medford;
Matthew Meyer of Frisco, Texas, son of Colleen and Ken Deeb and Jim Meyer;
Maeve Nichols of Austin, Texas, daughter of Les and Liz Nichols;
Nicole Orgobu of Garland, Texas, daughter of Anthony and Uchenna Orrbbu;
Laura Perez of Port Isabel, Texas, daughter of Almanzor and Laura Perez;
Aubrey Peters of Denton, Texas, daughter of Kelly and Carl Seiler;
Rohail Rahman of Plano, Texas, son of Nadia and Rashid Rahman;
Shivani Rana of Heath, Texas, daughter of Rajesh and Chhaya Rana;
Ana Rea of Greenville, Texas, daughter of Maria Arias and Gerardo Rea;
Jade Ross of Austin, Texas, daughter of Monica Ross;
Zuleyma Ruiz of Seagoville, Texas, daughter of Helen Ruiz and Oscar Coton;
Karisma Sheth of Plano, Texas, daughter of Yogesh Sheth and Kiran Sheth;
Pranav Sheth of Plano, Texas, son of Yogesh Sheth and Kiran Sheth;
Jung “Jason” Shin of Southlake, Texas, son of Sang Shin and Hyun-Sook Park;
Sayali Vilekar of Pleasanton, California; and
Bonnie Worstell of Sugar Land, Texas, daughter of Earl and Donna Worstell.
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 36 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of 1,250 students and a faculty of more than 100 allow a 12:1 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.