The University Record, February 27, 1996

Students trade sun & sand for hammers & soup pots

By Carlean Ponder
News and Information Services


More than 300 U-M students will trade fun in the sun for hammers, soup pots and delivery vans by participating in Alternative Spring Break (ASB) projects ranging from building houses in Cla rksdale, Miss., and tutoring youngsters at the Children's Shelter in Denver to feeding and tagging fowl at a bird emergency aid sanctuary on Big Talbot Island, Fla.

ASB was started in 1990 by a few students who saw spring break as an opportunity to combine fun with service off campus. Six years later, there are 31 Project SERVE groups working in 16 states and Mexico.

"Our program is dedicated to providing break opportunities to as many students as possible while always trying to increase community impact and learning potential as well," says Dave Waterhouse, ASB staff adviser. "With understanding and compassion, we hope to learn how we can effectively address the problems eating at the fabric of our society."

Jeff Smithers, a third-year chemistry major at U-M, has spent two spring breaks at the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, S. Dak., where he tutored high-risk children attending the Lakota Nation's community boarding school. He also cooked lunches at the reservation's nutrition center, which provides meals for the elderly. "It was a relationship of equal giving," Smithers says. "I gave time and energy and unknowingly received more than I gave." This year, students will help rebuild the nutrition center, which recently was ravaged by fire.

New programs and sites are continually being added to the ASB choices including this year a curriculum -based break with a seminar in women's studies that will involve a "street rescue" program for girls in Detroit, helping them find alternatives to pregnancy, prostitution and homelessness.

The increase in the number of programs and participants can be attributed to the positive experience the students find working with Project SERVE. "A consistent comment," Waterhouse says, "is that these experiences profoundly change the way the students view community service, their goals and values, and life. Commitment to working against social injustice is a common outcome."

The University's assistance, along with the diligent work by the students to raise more than half of both program and site expenses, has supported the growth of the program. "The University has recognized the importance of service to the lea rning and development of students, and the legitimacy of co-curricular community service learning programs such as ASB in this education," Waterhouse says.