Help Move the Herd to NOLA
Guest post by Joe Ginese, Director, Center for Student Involvement at Nichols College (MA).
“Would anyone be interested in an alternative spring break trip?”
The crowd mumbles with a sense of excitement and curiosity.
“It’d mean spending a week, perhaps in New Orleans, doing service like Habitat for Humanity or in soup kitchens in the area that Katrina hit.”
The audience of students at the student government association meeting enthusiastically nods and collectively exclaims mixed reactions including, “Yes!”, “That’d be awesome,” and “Oh I’ve done trips like that.”
Here at Nichols College, perhaps not so unlike other institutions of larger sizes, the students are the inspiration for change and often the drivers of it. If the students want it, we make it happen. After that meeting in the spring I started sharing the idea with colleagues to talk feasibility, connections, and timelines. Sure enough, someone knew someone who has done work in New Orleans on a yearly basis and had a connection with an organization with a great reputation. Momentum was rolling, but this couldn’t be done alone so it was time to find collaborators, which meant more intentional conversations. Turns out the assistant director of residence life was once in my shoes, being the one to start an alternative spring break program and knew what it would take to make it a success. I had the connection to the organization; I had a co-conspirator to help facilitate since I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the trip. Now, it was time for the students to follow through on their initial excitement about the prospect of spending their spring break doing work for and serving others.
Here is where our biggest challenge came into play. We had an application process that was standard with essays and references, but it also outlined that students would be required to raise $600 each to attend the trip. Many of our students work hard for their money between part-time jobs, on-campus work study positions, and affording expenses of being a student; $600 was surely enough to stop some people from considering the opportunity. While this seems like something that would be a negative to the program, it was a positive when it came to selection. We didn’t select students who thought nothing of the $600 fee. We selected students up for the challenge of raising $600 in less than 5 months. We selected students who weighed the $600 as the cost of an experience of not only traveling to New Orleans, but to make a positive impact on a community and, to make a positive impact in their own lives.
Together, we have 8 students who vary in just about every possible way. From hometowns, to majors, to class years, to motivations for doing this, to experience with tools; the one thing they share is being prepared to transform from a group individuals going on a trip to becoming a group. Which leads me to my main motivation for bringing this to the Nichols College campus, transforming our students. A shared experience of doing service whether you fly 1,000 miles to do it, or do it down the street from campus has the potential to change a student’s life. This isn’t cliché. I’ve had the opportunity to lead two alternative spring break trips, and each resulted in students returning to campus with more than just a retreat “high”, they come back with new eyes. The change in perspective, the memories, lessons, experiences, and connections established with the students is what makes these trips worthwhile. Serving a community is great, traveling to new locations is fantastic, and making friends is phenomenal, but transforming yourself from someone existing in this world to someone who is an engaged global citizen is the goal. Alternative spring break trips shouldn’t be called trips, they should be called journeys because it is on a journey that one grows, learns, and often ends up in a place where they didn’t expect to be. In 11 days, 8 students and 2 administrators will go on a journey together. In 21 days, 10 people will come back with a shared experience, a shared mindset, and a new perspective on the world around them.
Help us move the herd to NOLA. Donate to their trip here: http://alumnichoose.org/nbab