For many, spring break means community service

Students at the ASB swap

Carole McFall
March 02, 2011

Alternative Spring Breaks are offered at colleges across the country, but Emerson’s spring break program is uniquely student-driven. The students choose where to go and organize all the elements for the trips—from creating partnerships with community organizations to raising the funds needed to make it possible. This year is also distinctive because it will be the first time that the three Alternative Spring Break experiences (happening in Boston, New York, and Florida) will be documented by film students in Emerson’s Visual and Media Arts Department.

Writing, Literature, and Publishing major Sarah Dwyer ’13 is leading a trip for the first time. She and a group of 13 students and two chaperones will spend next week in New York, working with a couple of different organizations. They’ll experience different aspects of community outreach in Manhattan—from working with Youth Service Opportunities Project in soup kitchens to helping instruct elementary school students in environmental practices through Green Apple Core.

Their home base won’t be the Westin, but the West End Presbyterian Church. “After every day, we’ll have a discussion about what we did. You don’t often get the opportunity to have a conversation with students who aren’t in your major,” said Dwyer, whose sister inspired her to participate in Alternative Spring Break.  

Meanwhile, Theatre Education major Janet Mullen ’12 has kept her outreach closer to home. “I chose to plan the activities in Boston because I’m from Franklin, Massachusetts, and lots of students don’t realize that there are opportunities for community outreach right here,” said Mullen. “I’d like to establish a permanent presence where we go, and establish an ongoing partnership with local organizations.”

In Boston, students participating in Alternative Spring Break will be volunteering at after-school programs at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club and 826 Boston, helping students with their homework, playing games, and engaging in a variety of other mentoring activities. They’ve also lined up some special events, including guest speakers and a screening of Waiting for Superman.

Writing for Film and Television major Isabel Thottam ’13 is heading up the team traveling to Florida. Partnering with Community Collaboration International in Niceville, about 30 minutes from Pensacola, students will work on an ongoing sustainability project: helping to restore shorelines from damage that resulted from last April’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They’ll help build a green house for the community there, and teach them how to participate in the cleanup.

When asked what’s special about the Emerson Alternative Spring Break experience, Thottam responded, “I’m only a sophomore, and the school instills the confidence in me that I can lead a trip. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I like that I can be seen as a leader.”

This year, the program’s participants raised almost $9,500 for their initiatives from individual donors and from fundraising activities, including an on-campus clothing swap and an off-campus “Battle of the Bands” concert. In the photo above, Thottam (left) and Lindsay Day search for deals at the clothing swap fundraiser, held Feb. 27 at the Bill Bordy Theater.

Following Emerson’s spring break, which takes place the week of March 7, the group of approximately 40 Alternative Spring Break members will gather on campus to share their experiences.

The documentary footage taken on the trips will be edited and screened at the Bright Family Screening Room in the fall, but we hope to share a sneak peek of footage from these trips soon after the students return. Stay tuned.

Photo credit: Aja Neahring '13