The Michigan Daily- Friday, March 6, 1992- Page 5
Whilemany Uriwrsity students trawl to tropical regions for
fn in the sun, a few dare to explore something entirely new
by Gwen Shaffer
Daily Staff Reporter
Every spring break as thousands of college
students work on their tans, a handful of stu-
dents work to upgrade inner-cities and rural
areas by volunteering free time and labor to
local community organizations.
The University's Alternative Spring Break
Program (ASB), in its third year, offered ap-
proximately 50 students an opportunity to choose
from five diverse projects, ranging from nurs-
ing injured birds back to health to building
houses for the homeless. Although the trips
differed substantially in structure and location,
each had the common goal of helping another
community while fostering personal growth.
The University's ASB program began in
1989 by a Project SERVE (Students in Educa-
tionally Rewarding Volunteer Experiences) in-
tern who needed to establish new programming
as part of her job and has steadily grown.
Initially, ASB offered students one site in Niles,
Mich., building houses for low-income fami-
lies. Last year, two sites in New York were
added, one working with the elderly and the
other in soup kitchens.
This year, students tutored minority chil-
dren in Mississippi, built low-income housing
in Kentucky, fed the homeless in New York
City, renovated homes in Philadelphia, and
cleanedbirds victimized byan oil spill in Florida.
K eith Corrola, an LSA first-year student
and one of the site leaders for the group
that worked in New York City soup
kitchens, said seeing the extent of homelessness
in New York made him uneasy.
"When we first drove into the city, people
jumped onto our car to wash it. There are
cardboard villages creeping up in places,"
*Corrola said. "It sets you on edge. Really expe-
riencing it humanizes it for you."
Corrola said he applied to the ASB program
in part because he was interested in seeing the
"whole contrasts of highs and lows in New
"You have the ultra-rich and the very poor,"
he said. "It's a really serious social problem."
Students on the New York trip spent their
days working the lunch shift in several sites,
including soup kitchens in
the Bronx, Harlem, and
Manhattan. One day the 'When we fi
group passed out sand- the city
wiches to homeless staying
in Grand Central Station. jumped onto
In New York, ASB par- wash it. It se
ticipants slept at a church in edge. Really
Hell's Kitchen and, like
most groups, cooked their experiencing
own meals. humanizes y
Corrola said he was par-
ticularly struck by a for-
merly-homeless man's LSA first-
speech about the underly-
ing reasons for the increased
had little contact with people," he said. "But
when we scrubbed them, they didn't fight us --
it's like they sensed we were helping them."
Moeller said his experiences in Florida gave
him a better understanding of the environment's
"I learned that even minor damage can have
far-reaching effects," he said. "Everything in
the environment is linked together."
Before most students left for their trips
last week, they said they were looking
forward to an intense working and learn-
ing experience. However, upon return, many
said the best part of their breaks was experienc-
ing a different area of the country and bonding
with ASB participants.
Some students said they went into ASB with
no idea of what to expect, knowing only that
they did not want to participate in a "main-
stream" spring break.
First-year RC student Ann Schirmer, who
went to Kentucky, said she chose to become an
ASB participant because it sounded "interest-
ing and fun."
"I felt like I wasn't getting involved enough
in things like this," Schirmer said. "The Appa-
lachians are such a different culture, I just went
into it not knowing what to expect."
Jennings, who also served as one of the site
leaders for the group in Mississippi, said he
chose that particular ASB site because he wanted
to gain a better understanding of the southern
half of the United States.
Moeller - a site leader for the Florida group
- said doing volunteer work over spring break
appealed to him for several reasons. "I was tired
of the old drinking and puke routine."
However, Moeller was not completely self-
sacrificing in his decision. "I chose Florida
because it is warm. Even though we made a
commitment to do work, our number-one prior-
ity was to have fun," he said.
Although there is quite a bitof time required
by the site leaders to organize and plan the trips
- often beginning months in advance -
Moeller said he thought he would get more out
of ASB as a site leader.
"When I do things I like to be at the forefront
of what's going on," Moeller said.
Project SERVE began scouting out poten-
tial sites and working out details last
"I've learned a lot about organization,"
Jennings said. "When you are working with
other people who rely on you, it's quite a bit of
life in perspective.
"You always bitch about your own life, but
being there makes you see how fortunate you
are. Also, you see that your way of life isn't the
only way, or the best way," Sawhney said. "The
people there are so laid-back and so foreign
from the college environment."
o our cad-to
ets you on
in the Kentucky site said the
new friendships they formed
with one another were the
most pleasant surprise.
Jennifer Kiefer, an LSA
junior who also traveled to
Appalachia to improve hous-
ing conditions, agreed that
her group "bonded" during
"When I first met every-
one in the group, I thought
how different we all are, but
our personalities still all
clicked," Kiefer said.
On the group's last night
in Kentucky, everyone had a
chance to go camping and
lenged our beliefs."
The 10 students that traveled to Mandenhal,
Miss., also learned about issues of racism and
power. Nursing School junior Pete Jennings
said the town of 2,000 whites and 400 Blacks
was very segregated and racism was often bla-
"The white community is on a hill, and all
their water runs into the Black part of town,"
Jennings said. "Talk about coming from the
wrong side of the tracks ...
railroad tracks literaly sepa-
rate he Blacks and whites."
Although Jennings said he 7
was somewhat disappointed
with some of the volunteer
work his group was assigned
-specifically, building a fence
during the day - he sees the
volunteer work as merely an
excuse for going to Mississippi
to learn about race relations.
"The best parts of the trip
were just talking to people in
the community about racism,"
In the afternoons, ASB par-
ticipants tutored elementary
school children and played out-
doors with them.
"My favorite partof the trip
was interacting with the kids,"
Jennings said. "PlayingFrisbee
with them was a blast."
In the evenings, the students
visited various people's homes
and talked to them. "It was
great being in that friendly en-
vironment and being accepted
as far as whites coming into a
Black community," Jennings
Although the Mississippi group cooked most
of their meals together, one night they sampled
local cuisine at a "diner."
A lot of people are looking at
the current presidential race and
saying, "Geez, this race is really up
in the air."
I'm looking at the same cam-
paign and saying, "Geez, we're in a
lot of trouble."
My reaction has little to do with
Pat Buchanan landing nearly 40
percent of the
vote in many
of the Matthew
the phases of the moon.
What bothers me is that this
country is in desperate need of a
strong leader, and neither party is
offering anyone capable of filling
that void. Politicians are no longer
the leaders of this country, no
matter what they would like to
Nobody cares anymore, and I
really don't blame the American
public for its apathy. We are a
nation that prides itself on democ-
racy, but with the current group of
candidates, most people can't stay
awake long enough to pull the
I don't want to dismiss all the
candidates completely; many of
their ideas are worth hearing.
Unfortunately, none of them can
scrape up enough charisma to
interest most voters.
Sure, we still have many
choices - if you like white men.
Every four years, these characters
put on their conservative suits and
make promises they can't keep.
They talk a lot but never say
anything, and when all is said and
done, more is said than done.
The only people who depend on
politicians these days are late-night
comedians, whose nightly mono-
logues feed off the latest bumnblings
of elected officials. David
Letterman may not be a staunch
Republican, but you'd better
believe he wants Dan Quayle
around for another four years.
Our leaders are missing - some
go into big business, some go into
law. Very few go into politics.
And why should they? They can
make more money get more done
without having to wage daily wars
with Congress. People are sleeping
on heating grates in metropolitan
city streets, and the brain trust in
Washington passes the time by
giving itself a raise.
Not long ago, people from this
area of the country were clamoring
for Chrysler Motors Chair Lee
Iacocca to run for president. People
still look for the Rev. Jesse Jackson
to throw his hat in the ring every
election year. Neither of these men
has ever held an elected office.
But after looking at some of the
people we've elected recently, I
wonder if that really makes a
I'm reminded of the line from
the movie Back to the Future when
Christopher Lloyd, after finding out
that Ronald Reagan is a future
president, asks, "Who's the vice-
president? Jerry Lewis?"
(Please insert Quayle joke here)
So we're left still looking for a
real candidate. People talk about
how John F. Kennedy's administra-
tion was overestimated after his
assassination. Maybe. But he was
the last president in whom the
American people believed.
After his assassination, the
country endured the hardest years
of the Vietnam War and soon after,
the Watergate scandal.
First, people stopped trusting.
Then, people stopped caring.
The blame is two-fold: Ameri-
cans should demand better candi-
dates by voicing their opinions at
the polls; but politicians should
find the hidden message in voter
The winner of a presidential
election should be the candidate
"He spoke about the concept of neighbor-
hoods becoming non-existent and people not
caring about one another anymore," Corrola
In sharp contrast to the urban problems of
New York, the group that went to Eastern
Kentucky encountered a subculture where
people tend to put a great deal of stress on
loyalty to neighbors and "kin."
Nine University students went to the Appa-
lachian Mountains to build houses for low-
income families through an organization called
Kentucky Mountain Housing. LSA sophomore
Aarti Sawhney said her experiences in Eastern
Kentucky - where the average annual income
is $7,000 - were somewhat surprising.
"I pictured some degree of poverty, obvi-
ously, but seeing something as opposed to talk-
ing about it awakens you to the reality," she
Sawhney said being in Eastern Kentucky's
depressed surroundings helped her put her own
hiking in Red River Gorge, a nearby camp-
Ten students forwent going to exotic places
during spring break to volunteer their time at a
work camp in Philadelphia run by Quakers.
Josh Kondek, an LSA junior and a site leader in
Philadelphia, said interacting with other people
in his group was also a large part of his trip.
"We all got to know each other pretty well
and everybody was really cool," Kondek said.
Students in Philadelphia spentone daypaint-
ing and cleaning up a recreational building for
Native Americans donated by the government.
Another day the group went to a maximum
security prison and talked to Black Muslim
"A lot of African Americans were very
angry with the way the system is working,"
On the third day students repaired homes of
various Black Philadelphia
Q F itr h
"T h e
of the week
T ®u alway6 as. .u
about your own life,
but being there
makes you see how
fortunate you are.
Also, you see
that your way of life
isn't the only way,
or the best way.'
- Aarti Sawhney
"This woman built an
addition on the back of her
house and serves dinner so
she can afford to send her
daughter to college,"
For the ASB participants,
being in Florida did not mean
"fun in the sun." An oil spill
which occurred in the St.
John's River just before the
students arrived, guaranteed
the "Bird Emergency Aid
and Kare Sanctuary" partici-
pants a very busy week.
"The refuge had just re-
ceived 300 pelicans before
Jennings said that although he was officially
"a leader," everyone in his group took initiative
at times. "We made decisions as a group most of
About 65 students applied to become ASB
participants last November. Although fifteen
people were initially rejected due to space re-
strictions, they later had the opportunity to join
when others dropped out of the program.
The majority of those who went on an ASB
said now that they have had a taste of commu-
nity service work, they will make an effort to
participate in more volunteer projects in Ann
"Once you get your feet wet, there are so
many opportunities and so many things to do,"
TOP: A pelican harmed by diesel oil is the center of
attention for a group of University students who
spent their spring break in Florida tending to
pelicans damaged by an oil spill. From left to right
are LSA sophomore Karin Skaggs, LSA junior Craig
Ranastar I RAemn r;Mpli-m.. M;i..l I RA
adelphia, the group slept in a
row house also run by the Quak-
ers. Kondek said the groun did
we got there. They were so happy to see us
because they were desperate for volunteers,"
LSA sophomore Trevor Moeller said.