During the week of March 8, 2016, through March 12, 2016, 24 Kean University students and staff took part in Alternative Spring Break. Alternative Spring Break is an opportunity for students to give back through a service trip that can be compared to week-long Habitat for Humanity service project.
“I wanted to participate in Alternative Spring Break because I knew it would make me happy,” said Kristen Failla, freshman speech and language pathology major. “In life, everyone wants to do things that they are sure will bring them joy and for me that something was this community service project. I knew that the look on the families’ faces when they viewed our finished work, even if I couldn’t be there to see it, would be single handedly be the reason I chose to do this.”
Students and staff spent the week volunteering alongside an organization called A Future With Hope whose mission is to help repair homes from Hurricane Sandy. Students were divided into two groups, and on the last day were divided into three groups.
“Love sums it up,” said Mariam Ishak, senior psychiatric rehabilitation and treatment major. “I wanted to participate in Alternative Spring Break because I have a passion, but probably more importantly, a calling to help people. I think we all have this calling in some way, shape, or form. To me, life is empty without love.”
The first groups’ task was to drywall an entire house that was located in Villas, N.J. The job also included demolition and insulation. The house had severe water damage from Hurricane Sandy.
“This family has a 9-year-old child who is wheelchair bound, so it was important to make the home wheelchair accessible as well,” said Ishak. “The home presented some challenges. Many of the wooden beams that served as the home's foundation were warped…and were very difficult to install drywall… We had to have a great deal of patience and exercise, [and] some serious teamwork to install the drywall. We shared tools and materials, exchanged ideas in order to come up with solutions to obstacles we faced and watched out for one another's safety.”
The second group’s task was to dig four to six feet in order to install a pipe line. The house was located in Little Egg Harbor, N.J. The home they were working on was owned by an elderly couple. The wife was ill and the couple did not have the resources to install a new pipe line.
“As I worked in my corner of the hole, I encountered physical obstacles such as hitting rocks and wooden logs along the way,” said Failla. “However, this only made all of us as a group more resilient to anything else that came our way and it was simple life lessons like that that made me proud to be a part of the digging team. For me, this job was more than just digging a hole to have room for a plumbing line, but it was more like opening the ground to have room for more opportunity and possibility for both me as a volunteer and more so the people whom I was providing the service for.”
On the last day a smaller group went Atlantic City, N.J. to paint two rooms, one hallway and one bathroom. The home was owned by an elderly man whose wife passed away less than a year ago.
“If given the opportunity to participate in this next year, I [would] wholeheartedly do so without having second thoughts,” said Maria Fajuli, junior biology major. “Participating this year gave me an opportunity to make a difference in a family's life, while making a connection with my fellow Kean University peers.”
The trip was not just about completing a service project it was the chance to make connections and create memories that will last a lifetime. Students were also given downtime every day, after their eight-hour work day.
Many of the students that took part in Alternative Spring Break enjoyed the experience and are excited to do it again, if given the opportunity. The Center for Leadership and Service (CLS) has different service projects throughout the semester; visit Cougar Link for more opportunities for service hours.
“This trip was the opportunity for students on campus to come together and help families in need,” said Abby Gallego, senior service specialist and psychology and criminal justice double major with a minor in American Sign Language (ASL). “This has been my third time on the Alternative Spring Break trip and I recommend it to any student interested. It is an eye opening, humble experience and it helps you remain grateful for the items you have in life.”