The Alternative Spring Break that can change your life
The phrase “reading week” calls to mind any number of scenarios. But for one group of Concordians, it’s a chance to engage in meaningful community service and critical reflection.
Each February, Student Services’ Alternative Spring Break program brings staff and students together for a transformative service-learning experience. This year, the two teams travelled to to New Orleans, Louisiana, and a camp in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec — a town not far from Montreal, in the province’s Laurentian region.
In both cases, participants worked with local community organizations to support their efforts.
Tamara Mijatovic, designated student leader for Team Laurentians, joined a group of dedicated peers and members of CCS Community Services to help with renovation work at Camp Kinkora in preparation for the upcoming summer season. The Camp Positive program, one of several offered at Kinkora, gives respite to adults living with HIV/AIDS.
The experience was a moving one.
“It taught me that it is only through the process of becoming better ourselves that we can learn how to help others,” Mijatovic says. “This is the true essence of service learning.”
Milva Venditti, another member of Team Laurentians, was similarly affected by the endeavour.
“I realized that despite all our differences, whether it is ethnicity, culture or religion, I share with this unique group of individuals the same values and concerns regarding the undeniable question: what good am I bringing to myself and others?” she says.
‘An amazing opportunity’
Reverend Ellie Hummel, who manages Concordia’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy, was the staff leader of Team NOLA, the crew that travelled to New Orleans. There, she and her team worked alongside local members of the St. Bernard Project to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Alternative Spring Break is such an amazing opportunity to engage with students on a profound level,” Hummel says. “Where else do you get an opportunity to help others, live together for a week and reflect on the experience?”
While scrubbing studs or cleaning windows, the group discussed their hopes and fears. While cooking or waiting for the shower, they chatted about their motivations and friendships.
“I learned so much about myself and the world around me, and got to know an exceptional group of students,” Hummel says. “I am very grateful for the experience.”
For Kiera St. Jean, a student with Team NOLA, travelling to New Orleans was a remarkable experience.
“It reminded me of what it feels like to fall in love with a city, with people and with hope for cross-cultural communities,” she says.
The Alternative Spring Break program is managed by the Dean of Students Office, part of Student Services at Concordia. Applications for the February 2015 program will accepted during the 2014 fall term.