Photos courtesy of Becky Lartigue, Emma MacDougall, Adam Lapointe, Brian Greer and Jamie Goldstein
As spring break rolled around, many Springfield College students were looking forward to over a week of soaking up the sun. For several groups on campus, however, the short hiatus from classes meant it was time for the real work to begin.
Four student clubs and one class traveled to various places, some in the United States and others out of the country, either for service-oriented or education-based trips.
The Springfield College Outreach Committee, otherwise known as SCOC, was almost not included in that group after having to scramble to replace their usual spring break location.
“For the past 10 years we’ve been going to Mexico, but pretty much the second week school started we found out we weren’t going to be allowed to go to Mexico, which we have very tight relationships with the University of Mexico and they’ve been working with us for years, and we’ve been working with them for years, and it was really heartbreaking to hear that,” senior Emma MacDougall, the president of SCOC, said.
SCOC was not allowed to travel to Mexico this year due to the increased danger. After they learned of their plans being nixed, MacDougall and her co-chair Laura Russett searched for locations for their service trip without much success, until they finally found a connection…within MacDougall’s own family.
MacDougall’s aunt from Rhode Island knew a man by the name of Friar Doug Grant, who knows MacDougall’s family (although she was unfamiliar with him). Through Grant, MacDougall was able to set up a trip to Clarence Town, on Long Island in the “real” Bahamas. MacDougall stressed that their location was not in a commercialized area, but rather an area where people were struggling just to find work. The trip was a first even for MacDougall, who is a seasoned SCOC trip veteran.
“It was kind of like I was going on the trip for the first time again, which was awesome,” she said.
Fourteen people made the trip with the club, and learned how to connect with people from a different culture through service. When they initially arrived at their location, they were surprised to learn of the community’s welcoming custom of presenting cake to visitors.
“We had to eat meals of cake because we felt bad because we were like, ‘I don’t want to waste this cake,’” MacDougall said.
The team performed such tasks as gutting out an old garage, tearing up the garage’s roof and then rebuilding it. They shingled the roof and painted a mural on the inside of one of the garage’s walls at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. In addition to completing work projects, the club brought supplies to donate to local schools.
In their free time, they got to swim in Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest known blue hole in the world. Some members even took a plunge off of an approximately 40-foot cliff into the water below.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better trip,” MacDougall said. “Literally it was panic in the beginning, but it just fell together and it was a beautiful outcome.”
The SC Hillel club also experienced a first of sorts, but it did not have to do with their location. SC Hillel has been traveling to different areas of New Orleans for several years, but this year they partnered with a different organization. According to Vice President Noah Pascal, for the past four years the club has been working with Rebuilding Together, but this year the club worked with an organization called lowernine.org since the club worked in the Lower Ninth Ward and the organization was able to accommodate a larger group.
Pascal has seen the trip grow during his time with the club from three people his freshman year to 22 people this year. When the SC Hillel crew arrived at their location, Pascal was stunned by what he saw all of these years after Hurricane Irene devastated the city.
“In previous years I’ve seen homes on top of other homes, and boats in homes and cars flipped over, where this year it was unusual just because I saw nothingness,” Pascal said.
SC Hillel’s goal for the trip was to “turn houses into homes and help rebuild community.” This falls under the Jewish principle of “Tikun Olam,” which in essence means repairing the world, or leaving the world a better place according to Pascal.
The group was split into three smaller parties that worked on various tasks throughout their time in New Orleans, including painting and construction. They also spent time to reflect afterwards as well as visit community centers in the city and enjoy some delectable cuisine.
For Pascal, when his site leader, “Dirty” Darren McKinney, opened up to the group he was with, it made the entire trip worth it.
McKinney lived in New Orleans before the hurricane hit, so he had a personal connection to the work being done. Although he was reserved at first, when he shared his story, it reminded Pascal why he has returned to this trip every year.
“Really it makes all the difference when you remember each nail I’m putting in is to benefit this person,” Pascal said.
SC’s Habitat for Humanity knows about putting in the work to benefit others. The club took 27 people to Franklin, W.Va. to do some finishing work on four houses that were not yet completed from the work of prior outside groups that began earlier in the year.
“The main point is giving back to other communities outside of Springfield,” co-President Miranda Bartlett said.
The team put up railings, painted, caucused, did gutter work and cleaned among other tasks. They also helped a few people off-site, pulling up a broken well and then inserting it back into the ground after it was fixed. In addition to their work, the team got to experience a new environment that they may not have been accustomed to.
“It’s really interesting to see different walks of life, and West Virginia is just so different from Springfield,” Bartlett said. “It’s very rural, a lot of people don’t have electricity [or] running water, so it was a culture shock for a lot of people on the trip.”
Two other spring break trips focused more on the educational effect on students. Professor Becky Lartigue took some members of her British Literature 1 class to England to visit places with a medieval theme to complement the work they’ve done in class on the age’s literature.
“I wanted it to happen because there aren’t a lot of opportunities for our students to travel abroad,” Lartigue said.
Lartigue worked for two years to organize the first-time trip because she wanted to provide students the opportunity to travel abroad within the confines of a semester at SC. It was not a class requirement to attend, but it served as a fun alternative to fulfill an assignment. Students who attended were required to present a 10-minute report on a place of medieval importance prior to the group visiting it, while those who did not attend wrote a written report on similar topics.
“It was really fun to get the students teaching the whole group about what we were about to see,” Lartigue said.
All of the sites that they visited as a group fit into what they have been studying all semester. The 11-person group visited sites in London, Canterbury and York during their stay.
“The most fun for me was being able to stand back while they looked at displays in the museums and said, ‘Oh, that’s another reliquary for Thomas Becket!’ They would put together pieces of the things that we talked about in class before we left for the trip and the things that they’d picked up on the trip, and they put it all together,” Lartigue said.
The YMCA Club also spent time in London, England over the spring break to learn more about the history of the YMCA on a heritage tour. They toured the bigger parts of London like the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the first YMCA, and YMCA George Williams College.
“It’s really cool to get that firsthand account of the YMCA movement and where it started,” YMCA Club President Adam Lapointe said. “Part of the reason why we do this trip every year is not just to have YMCA club members experience the YMCA in a different country, but to educate people who may not know anything about the YMCA movement.”
In addition to visiting sites, the 11 attendees did some outreach youth work with a local YMCA in the area where they were staying.
Although each club and group had different experiences on their alternative spring break trips, they all provided SC students with the opportunity to continue growing even while away from the classroom.