For the park rangers in Virginia’s Kiptopeke State Park, getting 562 acres ready for summer tourists is a daunting job. It requires repairing boardwalk, clearing paths, grooming trails and preparing campsites, and can typically take months.
This year, thanks to a group of Ithaca College students, the process took a week. The students were taking part in the Alternative Spring Break program offered by the college. Other groups traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to do home repair; North Carolina’s Outer Banks to perform coastal conservation; Washington, D.C., to help with food security; and Providence, Rhode Island, to assist with an urban youth art program.
Angela Martino, ’22, took part in the Virginia trip, and said it changed how she views service work. “I can definitely see how important it is and how devoting even just an hour to another community or group helps them in so many different ways,” she said.
Students volunteered 20 to 24 hours service throughout the week, and were also given time to reflect on the work they performed, and to explore the community that they’re assisting. Don Austin, assistant director in the Office for Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs, serves as the program coordinator. He said the goal of the program is to allow students to involve themselves in an issue that they find meaningful and important, as well as creating a team of volunteer workers who can bring a positive impact to a community.
One of the main benefits of the trip is that it provides many opportunities not available in a classroom setting. In addition to the hands-on work, each trip has student leaders who earn valuable leadership experience helping prepare their group for the trip by facilitating icebreaker activities and helping students with packing and logistics before they depart. Once the group arrives at a location, the student leaders are responsible for facilitating reflection sessions and keeping their fellow students focused and motivated.
Christopher Griswald ’21, who also went to Kiptopeke, believes that the alternative spring break trips are an often overlooked opportunity for students. “There are a lot of classmates who I talk to who don’t know about these trips, and I wish they did, because they’d get a lot out of them,” he said.