News

Students Forgo the Beach for Hammers and Spoons

~ Charlotte Crawford ’16 contributed to this report

While Spring Break often means getting swept up in some sort of March Madness, whether it’s the excitement of college basketball or a week of sand and sun along the Gulf Coast, some St. Lawrence University students have turned to an alternative spring break option. This year, 18 St. Lawrence students will spend their Spring Break in either Philadelphia or Georgetown, South Carolina, along with volunteer faculty and staff, to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Embracing the notion of the City of Brotherly Love, Laurentian students organized a drive to collect toiletries and winter clothing in preparation for their trip to the St. Francis Inn, a Franciscan community that feeds the poor and homeless in Philadelphia. Unlike the typical urban soup-kitchen line, St. Francis serves patrons with table service, which St. Lawrence students will help provide.

The second group will take part in a Habitat for Humanity project in South Carolina, spending the week learning the basics of carpentry and home construction while assisting the family who will take ownership of the new home.

Emily Potts ’18 of Killingworth, Connecticut, took part in the Habitat excursion as a first-year student last year to North Carolina. Everyone, she said, participated as an equal in the group and worked together as a team.

“I think it’s good to get out of the bubble of St. Lawrence for a little bit,” she said. “We get so wrapped up in our school and everyday life that we kind of forget that there are people with greater issues than ours out there. I think an experience like this helps to humble you in that way.”

St. Lawrence has sent volunteers to St. Francis Inn for six years and has participated in Habitat projects for the last 12 years. Each of the two groups will have two student leaders in addition to faculty and staff volunteers.

“St. Lawrence always has had an interest in community service,” said Ashlee Downing, coordinator for Volunteer Services. “It really helps expose students to what they may not see every day here on campus, and it helps them see the issues that are prevalent across America, including right here in the North Country. When it’s in your own backyard, you may forget or look things over. This helps to put things in perspective.”

Ellen Rocco, station manager at North Country Public Radio, has taken part in two Habitat trips with students and this year will be going to St. Frances. For her, the trips are both an opportunity to give something back while also discovering one’s own skills.

“The first year I went I was a little nervous. I wondered if I would be of any use because I was in my mid-sixties. I wondered would I be able to do anything helpful,” Rocco said. “But the interesting thing is, you underestimate what you know sometimes. The trips benefitted me as much as the students.”

Will Mayer ’17 of Sudbury, Massachusetts, said that, being a junior, many of his friends are studying abroad this semester. So, this was a chance for him to expand his friendship network in addition to helping out others.

“I’m doing something important; I’m building a house and helping a family who needs it,” he said. “The Habitat trip is a great opportunity to get really close with 11 other people who I’ve never met before in my life.”

As much as these alternative spring break trips are a chance to bond together and learn new skills, it is more about giving to communities that can always use a helping hand.

“The communities who bring you in are so grateful; the people whose homes these will be, or the church, or the community organization that’s sponsoring the project,” Rocco said. “They see it as these young people who, instead of going to Daytona Beach, are going to pound nails—to do some good—and to do something useful for a week.”

About North Country Public Radio:

NCPR broadcasts from St. Lawrence University, which holds the license to the National Public Radio affiliate. Their primary call letters are WSLU.