GREEN COVE SPRINGS – For many college students, Spring Break is a time to vacation, party, spend some time back home with the family, or work extra hours for some extra cash, but for six students …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – For many college students, Spring Break is a time to vacation, party, spend some time back home with the family, or work extra hours for some extra cash, but for six students from Southern Utah University, it’s none of those.
As part of a nationwide program in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity more than 10,000 high school and college students participate each year in what is known as an ‘Alternative Spring Break.’ An alternative spring break is a volunteer experience offered to students who would rather spend their week-long break helping a community rather than lounging poolside with a drink in hand. For these six Southern Utah students, alternative spring break means building two houses in the heart of Green Cove Springs on North Street.
“These wonderful people are building two houses that will one day be called home by two families in our program,” said Carolyn Edwards, Clay County Habitat for Humanity executive director. “We don’t have any families quite ready for a home, which unfortunately means these students won’t be here for the dedication of the house to a family, but we are amazed and thankful for their generosity and unselfishness regardless.”
Not only does their generosity shine through in the work they’re doing, but also the circumstances surrounding their time here in the area. Each of the students had to pay an alternative spring break program fee, which is roughly $350, and their traveling expenses to get here. Fortunately, Habitat for Humanity is providing a place for them to sleep with help from Waste Not, Want Not in the food and drinks department.
For some of these students, this is their first time participating in an alternative spring break. Others are veterans of this community service-centered vacation, like senior nursing student Karen Snyder. For the past three years, Snyder has volunteered in Mexico building houses and other activities. The biggest difference between her work in Mexico and here in Clay County? Building regulations.
“I went down to Mexico each year for three years and built houses and they don’t really have building regulations so it was a little sketchy,” Snyder said, laughing. “This job here has different challenges in that it’s more of a hassle getting tools and supplies you need, but I prefer it.”
Whether she’s building a house in Mexico or Green Cove Springs, Snyder is focused on helping others while discovering her purpose, something she likens to her generation as a whole.
“I think our generation is a lot about trying to find meaning and purpose in life, and I think that you can have all the vacations you want, but to have this organization that this area has and all these different personalities working together, you can’t just chance upon that,” Snyder said. “This is an honor and an opportunity to have someone train you one-on-one on how to use a power tool, and to do so with such respect, all in an effort to get the same job done. It’s just very fulfilling.”
For some of the other students, like junior sociology major Christine St. Clair, this is their first alternative spring break. St. Clair finds herself in a unique position on this trip in that the work she’s doing all week ties almost directly in what she wants to do one day.
“I’m a sociology major with a minor in psychology and family so what I’m doing here definitely ties in to that,” St. Clair said. “I think this gives me good experience for what I want to do in the future, which is social work.”
Despite the work their doing during spring break, St. Clair still sees this trip as a bit of a vacation.
“I’m excited because this is still a new area to me and I still get to have that experience, but also, I just really enjoy doing things that I know are going to help someone else in the future,” St. Clair said.
The group’s leader, Kenny Kirker, a junior biology major, hopes that his group takes what they learn this week building two homes for Habitat for Humanity and apply it back home in their Utah communities.
“A big part of it for us, on the leadership side, is focusing on an issue, getting out of our comfort zone and going to something new, and then talking about and reflecting on how that relates to our own community back home and how we can bring what we learned here back home,” Kirker said. “When you’re in a foreign, new environment, the differences kind of make you realize the similarities in our different communities and that’s a huge component of the alternative spring break philosophy.”
Some of the ways Kirker and his team of alternative spring breakers plan to bring what they learn this week to home is through their university’s many outreach programs such as the food pantry, free swimming lessons for kids, their Days for Girls programs which provide sanitary products to girls in need and more. Kirker said the university has 12 different programs.
Despite being the team leader, Kirker thinks it’s important to remember how integral everyone on the team is to the project at hand.
“I really feel like everyone here is a leader in their own rights,” Kirker said. “Although I do a lot of the communication with Habitat for Humanity, once we are here and working, it’s very much a team effort and that’s the only way things like this can ever get done.”