University of South Carolina

The service alternative: Students give back on break

By Megan Sexton,, 803-777-1421

It’s been nearly two years since a tornado tore through Tuscaloosa, Ala., but Jacob Nelson knows there is still work to be done.

The University of South Carolina student is leading a group of Carolina students on an alternative spring break trip to continue rebuilding the Alabama community. He is one of more than 80 USC students on seven spring break trips sponsored by Carolina’s Community Service Programs office. Students will be doing everything from rebuilding boardwalks along the Jersey Shore torn apart by Hurricane Sandy to feeding the hungry in Florida to continuing to rebuild the battered historic Ninth Ward in New Orleans.

“Alternative break trips are an important beyond-the-classroom experience for students,” said Theresa Harrison, coordinator of USC Community Service Programs. “Students are able to explore a rural community or urban environment that may be different than what they are used to, while also providing valuable service to that local community.”

For Nelson, a senior biology major from Illinois who went on the USC alternative spring break trip to Tuscaloosa last year, the trip offers a chance to see the difference volunteers are making in the community. Because the tornadoes hit in April 2011, many people think the need for volunteers has gone away, “but there is still so much work to be done,” he said.

“Last year there were blocks just leveled. We’d be cleaning up the lots and find things like a child’s toy buried in the rubble. It really brought out the human aspect of the disaster. This year, we’ll be working to put up new places for people to live.”

The largest group – 25 – are heading to the New Jersey coast to help with hurricane cleanup. “We saw Hurricane Sandy as an opportunity to get more students involved and see first-hand how we can help in an immediate disaster,” Harrison said.

Follow what students are doing 

Follow along

  • Students are sharing their alternative spring break stories through social media.  Follow them at #UofSCaltbreak

Where students are serving

  • Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, Hubert, N.C. The sanctuary works to care for orphan and injured animals, educating the public about wildlife and houses animals unable to be released into the wild.
  • C.R.O.S. Ministries, Palm Beach, Fla. C.R.O.S. Ministries is an interfaith ministry that works with more than 90 congregations and groups throughout Palm Beach County. This “umbrella” non-profit consists of emergency food pantries, caring kitchens, after-school snack programs, and farming. 
  • Lower Nine in New Orleans, La. The non-profit Lower Nine works to reestablish homes in the historic Ninth Ward, an area still devastated by Hurricane Katrina's damage. Volunteers will help restore and rebuild homes.
  • Sam’s House, Merritt Island, Fla. Volunteers will collaborate with organizations that focus on  service projects to improve the environment. 
  • Volunteer Reception Center, Tuscaloosa, Ala. Students will help with debris cleanup, rebuilding, assisting citizens and more in the aftermath of the tornado that hit the area in 2011.
  • Martha O’Bryan Center, Nashville, Tenn. The center works to empower children, youth and adults in poverty to transform their lives through work, education, employment and fellowship. Projects will include cleaning, beautification, painting and gardening. 
  • Community Collaborations International, Atlantic County, N.J. The group organizes teams of volunteers from universities around the country and puts them to work where they are needed most. Volunteers will work on a variety of projects including insulating homes, cleaning out crawl spaces, sheet rock and painting.

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Posted: 03/11/13 @ 2:00 PM | Updated: 03/15/13 @ 4:33 PM | Permalink