Students on Spring Break

Students learn to serve and lead with alternative spring break

A week full of swinging hammers and home repair projects are on the agenda for 29 Oxford students during spring break March 6-10, and it's not from binge-watching home improvement shows on the couch. These students will be actively serving communities in need by building and repairing homes in New Orleans and Chattanooga, Tenn., during the week of Oxford College spring break.

Alternative spring break service trips allow students to learn about leadership and community through service; traveling to other regions of the country and working with different populations. In New Orleans, the group will work with the St. Bernard Project (SBP) to assist in repairing and building homes for South Louisiana residents displaced during Hurricane Katrina and the recent tornadoes in the area. Chattanooga participants will serve with Widows Harvest Ministries on projects to build, repair, or make necessary improvements to houses for local widows.

Volunteer Oxford Coordinators (VOC) and second year students Kristina Jespersen and Amy Li began planning the service trips during fall semester. A large component of the VOC position is planning and executing the alternative break trips; from logistics— lodging, meals, a budget, and necessary supplies—to participant selection, to the daily reflections and activities. Several Oxford staff will travel and serve alongside the students—Tammy Camfield, senior director of development for alumni relations; Allyson Epps, coordinator in the office of events and conferences; and Ricardo Horne, assistant director of student involvement and leadership.

The reflection piece is what makes the experience more than showing up and lending a hand. Horne explains, “we want to push past simply volunteering—to understanding the underlying causes of the social issues students are seeing and that are addressed by these non-profit organizations.” He notes examples of these issues are the economic barriers when women become widows for the Chattanooga participants as well as the socioeconomic impact of Hurricane Katrina and the layers of poverty, race, and politics for the New Orleans participants.

Discussions will focus on service as related to the Active Citizen Continuum model which has four stages ranging from member, volunteer, conscientious citizen, to active citizen. Most Oxford students would classify themselves in the volunteer stage says Horne. The goal is that they would reach the active citizen stage through education, discussions, reflections, and active service.

Participants will learn from their service work and bring that knowledge back to campus and the Oxford community.

“I hope that participants will gain more passion for getting involved in the important issues and that they will return to Oxford with new friends and outlooks,” Jespersen says.

Both groups depart campus on Saturday morning, with the Chattanooga group returning Wednesday evening and the New Orleans group returning Friday evening. It’s not all work and no play for spring break; each group has a day to explore the region and free time scheduled during each service day for relaxing, reflecting personally, or studying.

On their day off, students in New Orleans will explore the historic city and see campuses of nearby historically black colleges and universities. Chattanooga students will participate in a discussion about race and faith, including personal civil rights movement-era experiences related to that topic, led by the pastor of the local church where they are lodging in the historic St. Elmo district of the city. They will also take advantage of outdoor attractions nearby in Rock City, Lookout Mountain, and Ruby Falls.

Students serving in Chattanooga have the opportunity to interact with several Oxford alumni during the trip. Andy Mendonsa 76Ox is the executive director of Widows Harvest Ministries, the non-profit organization the group is serving. Jim Tanner 88Ox plans a visit with the group for dinner on Saturday evening and Susan Gregory 77Ox 79C is bringing lunch to the students at the service site on Monday.

Oxford graduates have a strong tradition of participating in the success of the students and programs of their alma mater. The Oxford College Alumni Board (OCAB) has made the alternative break service programs possible through their consistent and generous grant fund support for almost ten years.

For more information about the non-profit organizations Oxford College students will serve during alternative spring break, please visit sbpusa.org or www.widows.org.