Posted by: Max Orenstein, Communications Associate on 3/31/2009 4:41:00 PM
Two weeks ago, I traveled with about 70 students to Tampa, Fla. to document them doing homework. That’s right. These students chose to spend their spring break doing homework! It wasn’t the same kind of homework they get from their professors in college, but rather it was homework in the literal sense, fixing up the exteriors of homes in the West Tampa area.
The students who chose to go on this trip, as with all alternative break participants, gave up their chance to spend spring break laying on beaches in tropical climates and opted to spend their time working in a community of great need. By doing so, they got to see firsthand how less-fortunate people live in cities different from their own.
The students from Tufts University, University of Kansas and University of Maryland, spent their days in Tampa volunteering with the organization Rebuilding Together, working and revitalizing the historic West Tampa area. Students scraped, painted and landscaped three houses of individuals who could not fix the homes themselves due to age, or to pay for others to do it. When the work was done, the expressions on the homeowners' faces shone as bright as the colors on their newly-painted homes, making the students feel proud and accomplished in their work. The students' presence did not go overlooked in the Tampa community: Passersby honked their car horns and walked by to personally thank the students for volunteering their time to help out.
On Thursday, when all of the "homework" was finished, the students worked at Metropolitan Ministries, a Tampa-based homeless outreach and prevention organization -- an incredibly large and impressive one at that. The work was quite different from what the students had been doing the two days before. Here, students were given the opportunity to play with the children in the day care center, sort clothing and food donations, prepare food in the soup kitchen for serving, and even work directly alongside one of the organization’s social workers. Each of the roughly 70 Hillel students had different jobs, showing there was not an absence of work to go around.
The students, myself included, came away from the experience having seen a different side to a city that most Americans probably don’t think about. Tampa's homeless population is significant, yet when we think about cities of great need, we mostly think about New Orleans, which is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
These 70 students who traveled to Tampa were just a small part of the roughly 1,200 Hillel students who participated in other alternative spring break trips. As this number continues to grow each year, perhaps we should rethink calling it an "alternative" break, but rather make this notion of the alternative the norm. If you were to ask any one of these students who came to Tampa whether they would have rather gone to Miami for the week instead to party, I'm certain you would hear a resounding no. Who would ever have guessed that students would prefer to do homework on spring break rather than party.
RE: Doing Homework on Spring Break
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