A break full of rewards

This year’s spring break was more than just a party for some USF students.

Last week, 177 students dedicated their spring break to benefiting society through a variety of service projects. Some helped to restore wildlife areas, while others assisted nurses in an orphanage.

Through Volunteer USF, groups of 10 to 15 students reached out to various communities across the country. Site leaders and graduate assistants guided groups in volunteer work for several hours a day. Volunteers spent their remaining vacation time exploring the unfamiliar area.

Senior Andrew Read was one of seven USF students who went to Biscayne Bay National Park to restore the beach habitat ravaged by Hurricane Wilma.

“We did a coastal cleanup and had a whole dumpster full (of debris) in two days,” Read said.

Read also helped clean up one of the first homesteads near Biscayne Bay.

“It was reconstructed after being buried in the woods,” Read said. “Now it is trying to be classified as a historic landmark. We helped clean that up.”

In order to reduce some of the overhead cost of the trip, Read and his group stayed at a hostel, an inexpensive accommodation typically used by young travelers.

“We did our own dishes, cooked, took the trash out and stayed in tents outside,” Read said, “so we ended up paying next to nothing to stay there.”

Read and other members of his group spent most of their time on an island approximately five miles off the east coast of Florida.

However, the group still participated in local family educational events, went out to eat and even made a trip to Miami Beach.

“I may go back this summer with some friends and try to help out some more,” Read said. “It was an excellent trip; there were no problems at all. I would definitely recommend other people going.”

Senior Brandilyn Hayes attended a trip where she devoted her time, love and affection to neglected children in Atlanta, Ga.

She went to an orphanage called My House, where she worked with 11 sick and abandoned babies ranging from 2 months to almost 5 years old.

“It was really great,” Hayes said. “Although an emotional week, it was quite a learning experience.”

Hayes said the children in the house were fortunate to receive the aid because there are so many children not in orphanages in need of adequate care.

Hayes and eight other students stayed on a campground approximately 20 miles from downtown Atlanta. They packed their own lunches and cooked several dinners together.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. the volunteers assisted nurses with tasks such as changing and feeding babies.

But most importantly, the babies needed love.

“All the kids were really well taken care of,” Hayes said. “We all formed our own individual attachments to the different children. It was really fulfilling to work with the children, and it was touching to see them laugh. They are truly inspiring.”

The students also cleaned up a cluttered basement at the orphanage that nurses did not have time to organize.

After their volunteer work, Hayes and other group members toured the Atlanta area, visiting places such as the Martin Luther King Jr. historic site. They also went to the World of Coca-Cola museum and explored the city.

Each night Hayes and her group reflected on their daytime experiences.

“We talked about events that took place during the day, what we learned and what our best and worst experiences were,” she said. “We opened ourselves up to each other. I learned a lot about myself as well.”

Hayes plans to continue volunteering locally.

“I am going to seek out local hospitals and I am planning on continuing what I’ve started,” Hayes said. “It’s a way to give back, a way to do something different. It really gives you a different perspective on things.”

Amy Simon, USF volunteer coordinator for the Alternative Spring Break trips, said the trips were a huge success. Signing up was easy, and trip arrangements will soon begin again in the fall.

“Applications will be available when school begins and due at the end of October. Currently we are accepting applications for students to lead next year’s spring break trips, and those applications are due April 7 at Volunteer USF,” Simon said.

Students who missed out on Alternative Spring Break outings this year can participate in Alternative Weekends through Volunteer USF.

According to the Volunteer USF Web site, teams of up to 10 students can volunteer with a community organization at a location outside of Tampa for the weekend.

Alternative Weekend groups will go to cities such as Orlando and Jacksonville, where students will assist children with life-threatening illnesses.

“I would encourage students to at least look into one of the many trips,” Hayes said. “There is something for everyone.”

Students interested in volunteer opportunities can contact Volunteer USF through its Web site, http://ctr.usf.edu/volunteer/default.asp, or by visiting the Volunteer USF offices at CTR 246 in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center.