Four hundred Howard University students are planning to forego frolicking in the tropics or just resting and relaxing at home to work as volunteers in seven major U.S. cities as part of the school’s Alternative Spring Break program, officials said.
Students raised $50,000 during a 12-hour radiothon held March 3 at the university’s radio station, WHUR 96.3 FM. Other students converged on Georgia Avenue NW from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. urging motorists to contribute to help pay for their expenses to work on projects ranging from youth violence to illiteracy. The students are scheduled to work in the District, Baltimore, Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago and Haiti.
Detroit native Jasmine Gordon, 20, who is participating in her third consecutive Alternative Spring Break, is this year’s site coordinator for Atlanta.
“Being from Detroit, I wouldn’t be here at Howard without the help of so many people in my community helping and mentoring me,” she said. “I want to give that same thing to someone else.”
The Alternative Spring Break program is in its 19th year at Howard. The program is coordinated through the Office of the Dean of the Chapel and receives financial support from the Howard community and alumni, along with donors from the general public. Sun Trust, the program’s largest donor, provided a check for $10,000 during the fundraiser, organizers said.
During the radiothon, Howard University President Sidney A. Ribeau told the radio audience about the importance of the students’ work.
“They are not only changing the lives of individuals in the cities and communities they visit,” Ribeau said. “They are changing America. This is really a difference maker.”
The student volunteers are expected to complete more than 12,000 volunteer hours.
The students who serve, according to program executive director Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, have a special commitment to aiding people who are in need.
“There is no doubt in my mind that these are the students who are going to change the world,” she said. “Because of their courage and love, the fight in the communities they serve becomes their fight. By bringing these community issues to the forefront of our daily lives, collectively we can change our entire nation by what we are doing at Howard University.
Officials said they hope participating in Alternative Spring Break will kindle a life-long interest in volunteering.
“Our intent is to develop relationships and projects that live beyond our week of service,” Whetsel-Ribeau said.
Among this year’s assignments: students will travel to New Orleans to help families who have been displaced; they will work with families touched by gun violence in Chicago; and they will work on literacy programs in Detroit.
For the first time, Alternative Spring Break students will work in Baltimore and Memphis. In Baltimore, they will interact with students to offset problems associated with gang violence that police said contributed to an uptick in homicides in 2012. They will also create three murals.
In Memphis, students will work on projects involving public health and education.
Howard University has a special relationship with Haiti. Medical students traveled there last year to provide physical exams and medical treatment to hundreds of men, women and children. The Alternative Spring Break volunteers are scheduled to conduct dental screenings, teach sex health education and tutor adults in reading and writing English.
Stanford Fraser, 21, a history major who was recently accepted into Harvard Law School, is returning to help in Chicago a second time.
“With all the work needed and the news about gun violence, I felt it was important that I go back to Chicago,” he said.
Natalie Morgan, 19, a senior biology major from Vallejo, Calif., said her experience in Detroit last year made her want to be address illiteracy again.
“I was working with a group of 10th graders and I had one student who couldn’t read,” she said. “He couldn’t make it through a sentence without help from his classmates. It made me realize that what we’re doing in that week…is really important.”