Students spend spring break fighting hunger, homelessness

Rather than spending spring break at the beach, a group of Western Carolina University students are heading to Philadelphia to combat hunger and homelessness. The students will volunteer with community service projects from Monday, March 5, to Friday, March 9.

The WCU group – 16 students and four staff members – will conduct an outdoor cleanup at Fairmount Park, tutor children at Isaac Sheppard Elementary School, supervise recreational and educational activities for people who have disabilities at Carousel House, and sort and pack food items at Philabundance, a food bank. In addition, they will assist with arrangements for a flea market organized by HELP Philadelphia, a nonprofit agency devoted to building self-sufficiency among homeless and low-income families.

Students will take in some of the sights and sounds of Philadelphia as they visit Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and go to cultural or sporting events but Glenn Bowen, director of service learning, says “providing strong, direct service to the community is what alternative spring break is really about.”

Students picked Philadelphia because of the variety of opportunities available to provide service to people in need, and they wanted to experience life in a region unfamiliar to most of them. They selected projects from a list recommended by Daniella Gross-Eskin, project manager at Greater Philadelphia Cares, a clearinghouse for voluntary action.

“Students at our university are developing a genuine commitment to being involved in addressing community issues and meeting the needs of underserved people, not only in Western North Carolina but increasingly throughout the United States,” Bowen said.

Last year, a 19-member group from WCU spent spring break helping with Hurricane Katrina-related recovery and rehabilitation efforts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“Our primary objective is to make a difference in the lives of others,” said Katie Graunke, a WCU junior, who is taking the Alternative Spring Break trip for the third straight year. Graunke’s involvement in the program, in part, has put her in the running for a national humanitarian award named for Howard Swearer, a cofounder of Campus Compact.

Campus Compact is a national coalition of college and university presidents committed to the civic purposes of higher education. The Swearer Award recognizes college students for creating or supporting innovative strategies to address community issues and building civic engagement among their peers. Graunke is currently a national finalist for the award.

Last Minute Productions, WCU’s student programming board, sponsors the alternative spring break program in collaboration with the Service Learning Department.

For further information, contact Kathy Sims, WCU assistant director of service learning, at (828) 227-2595.