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Serious NH spring breakers: Instead of a tan, their glow comes from helping out

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 03. 2013 9:59PM
University of New Hampshire student Ryan Ormsby, right, gathers with his classmates Zac Porter, from left, Blair Chowanski, Ashley Muse and Theresa Conn on the Durham campus. The group is participating in the Alternative Break Challenge, a community service spring break alternative. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

BY THIS TIME next week, many New Hampshire college students will be enjoying tiki bars and beaches, spending their spring breaks somewhere in the sun. But several hundred students from colleges and universities in the Granite State will spend the week helping others around the world, choosing to work on community projects instead of their tans.

"It's not the spring break trip you think of, sitting at a bar or the beach," said Ryan Ormsby of Pelham, a University of New Hampshire nursing student, who next week will lead a group of students to Cumberland Island, Ga., to help clear hiking trails. "Not that there's anything wrong with that sort of trip. But a trip like this is so beneficial, to us and to the community we go to. I get so much out of it."

Students involved in these trips pick up some of the cost of the trip themselves - though that percentage varies depending on the school - with the remainder of the cost covered through money provided by the schools or fundraising.

"It is an inspiration to see so many students forgo the traditional spring break experience to help others in need," said Debby Scire, executive director of Campus Compact for New Hampshire (CCNH), a statewide collection of college and university presidents and private-sector partners committed to the civic purposes of higher education. "The numbers keep growing. We have more students getting involved every year, and we have expanded our reach to respond to more people and more places in need."

Scire points out these experiences prepare students for life beyond college, while making a difference in the lives of those in need.

"To see the impact these experiences have on our young people is amazing," said Scire. "I'm confident these students will develop into responsible, engaged and caring leaders of tomorrow."

Students head out on trips to take on dozens of different charitable projects this week and next.

Different destinations

A group of students from Saint Anselm College will go to New Jersey to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. A group from New England College is flying to New Delhi, India, to work with young children who live in slums that surround the city. Others are headed to the southern states, or poverty-stricken areas of the Caribbean.

Erin Gebo, 24, a senior at New England College, will join two faculty members and nine other undergraduate students on the 10-day trip to New Delhi.

"The trip will focus on establishing partnerships with organizations that NEC students can work with in the future," said Gebo. "We'll spend several days working with a nonprofit organization located in an area of South Delhi that runs youth awareness and vocational programs. We'll visit schools for cultural interactions, then participate in several community service projects, like garbage pickup, working with the Kids for Tigers organization.

"We're also supposed to work with a local tribe to improve a youth hostel. It's a lot to cram into 10 days. We'll be busy, but I'm so excited about it."

One study on the effectiveness of alternative breaks found that 100 percent of participating nonprofits benefited from the experience. Additional research has shown that students who take part in these trips are afterward more likely to engage in other forms of civic involvement, such as voting.

Raising the money

Ryan Ormsby is one of two student leaders of the UNH Alternative Break Challenge, which puts together community service-based spring break trips each year.

"We send groups out on 10 to 15 trips to various locations across the country," said Ormsby. "They'll work with Habitat for Humanity, Appalachian Trail maintenance, the Cumberland Island National Seashore area in Georgia, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, and inner-city daycares in East St. Louis."

Gebo said New England College had been "very supportive of our fundraising efforts."

"We petitioned the student senate, and they gave us $900 to divide up between 10 students," he said.

The UNH students pay $400 per participant.

"The trips are really beneficial," said Ormsby, 22. "They build a lot of character. You drive 25 hours in a van with people who you've never met before, to a place you've never been before, and you figure out how to work as a team and help others in the process. I know they are something I'll always remember."

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