Students use 'fake break' to engage in service
Louisiana, Georgia, New Jersey and Florida were destinations for volunteers helping with storm recoveries and community programs.
They painted and renovated and removed debris. They read to children and sorted donations. They traveled across the Eastern Seaboard and to the Gulf Coast.
And through it all they learned about themselves and the impact their work can make on communities.
The time between the end of Winter Term and the start of the spring semester - affectionately known as “fake break” by Elon University students - provided dozens of students an opportunity to serve areas near and far. Programs were organized through the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, Hillel, and the Multicultural Center.
Twelve students visited the Big Easy for a week of service with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, which acquires distressed properties to renovate and sell at discounts to educators. It was the first “Fake Break” service trip to Louisiana and the latest in more than two dozen visits to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
As part of their service, the team toured parts of the Seventh Ward and the Lower Ninth Ward in areas of the city hit hardest by the storm and ensuing floods. They also learned about the politics and economics that hindered recovery efforts in the immediate aftermath of Katrina by visiting the "Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond" exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum's Presbytere in the French Quarter.
Zeitoun, the university's common reading selection for 2012-13, served as the backdrop for the trip. For four days, students sanded, painted, nailed, sawed and demolished areas of a house on Republic Street in the Seventh Ward.
“I’ve learned how much patience and perseverance it takes to complete (renovation) projects. I must have sanded for eight hours!” said Elon sophomore Grace Troccoli. “At the end of the day, when I look at the house, it looks a lot better than when we first arrived. And the storm really served as a catalyst to attack deep-rooted problems with the city. When you rebuild, you have a chance to change.”
Fifteen students traveled to Atlantic County in New Jersey to assist with clean-up from last fall’s Superstorm Sandy. The team worked with AmeriCorps to gut houses and move debris in a shore region made famous by images of destruction following the October hurricane.
“I’ve never participated in organized service before, but I felt a need to do something out of my regular routine. Doing labor has always been a way for me to relax, and so when the email went out about the Fake Break New Jersey Relief Trip, I jumped at the chance to do something different,” said sophomore Bram Daly. “These past few days have been the happiest of my life. The people I have met on this trip have been extraordinary, especially those we have provided assistance to.”
Companions on the program offered similar reflections.
"I thought it would be such a cool experience to help the people affected by this storm," said Elon junior Jillian Somero. "When I heard about the trip I was all in to help people in such desperate conditions. So far I have learned a lot about myself and how I can function as a team player. Usually the thought of a group project completely turns me off, but seeing my team and how well we work together has given me faith in teamwork again."
West Palm Beach, Fla.
For students in Hillel, service programs typically take place over spring break. Organizers altered their tradition when they saw that Passover falls in the middle of the upcoming break in March. It is the fifth alternative break trip staffed by Hillel director Nancy Luberoff, who cited the Hebrew philosophy “tikkun olam,” or “repairing the world,” for her interest in giving students opportunities to learn through immersion experiences.
“I am continually impressed by the students’ interest in social justice, commitment to hard work, and passion for traveling and working as a Jewish community,” Luberoff said. “I hope that this trip will inspire them to understand their role in the world and their ability to make a difference.”
The Hillel program for its nine student volunteers includes a dinner hosted by the local Jewish Community Center with a talk by the chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, and a Shabbat dinner and egalitarian Shabbat service at Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach at Florida Atlantic University.
“This is my first chance to really make a difference that could last a lifetime,” said Elon University freshman Jacob Penn. “The special bond I share with Hillel made this trip a ‘no-brainer.’”
Others said likewise. “A lot of people were surprised when I told them how I was spending my fake break,” said freshman A.J. Roshfeld. “But it’s an indescribable feeling when you can see firsthand how your hard work is affecting others. As tiring as it is to wake up at 6:30 a.m. and do eight hours of manual labor, it is so rewarding to see the finished project and the little bit of progress you make each day.”
Students in the Watson & Odyssey Programs drove to Atlanta for several days to help with a variety of charities, including Kids Read Inc., a nonprofit that distributes donated children’s books to areas in need. Kids Read was started by a current Elon University senior. The program was organized through the Multicultural Center.
“Personally, spending time reading to children, exploring museums, and listening to inspirational speakers taught me this main lesson: make a difference now,” said Watson Scholar and university sophomore Pari Shah. “This opportunity has enlightened me with the grand importance of how a little can go a long way.”
Kids Read Inc. founder Brenna Humphries, an Elon University senior, praised efforts of the students taking part in the program. The books themselves were packaged for shipment on Jan. 21 by Elon student volunteers taking part in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
“I am so thrilled that the Watson Odyssey sophomores were able to support my non-profit,” she said. “We donated a total of 400 children's books to two inner city elementary schools, one inner city children's hospital and an inner city YMCA. We also spent time reading to the elementary school children and promoted the importance of going to college.
Students also visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and the International Civil Rights Museum.
Maria Dykema Erb, associate director for college access & success in the Multicultural Center and the service trip coordinator, said that one theme connected all of the activities and service opportunities for students - that “no matter who we are, all of us have the ability to make a difference in someone else’s life.”
For more information on upcoming service opportunities through the three organizations, visit their websites: