Students and Communities Deeply Impacted by Un-BULL-ievable Spring Break Trips

(April 3, 2018) – Usually spring break means students have earned a much-deserved break from course studies, for a full week of vacation and adventures.

Some students, however, are increasingly opting to participate in the USF St. Petersburg Un-BULL-ievable Spring Breaks (USB), an alternative for students who want to give back through civic engagement, and have fun while helping others.

From left: Angela Segovia, Amelia

From left: Angela Segovia, Amelia “Emmy” Oberst, Natalie Guerra, Valerie Przetocki, Nicole Gauvey, and Breanna Wallace. Photo courtesy of Stephanie D’Agustino.

USB was established in 2015 and has been a successful program for students to get involved in community projects around the country. It is based around the Active Citizen Continuum Model, taking individuals from being mere members of society to active participants in their communities.

“The whole idea is to research, learn about an issue, go and do the work and then come home and give back to our own communities,” said Josh Miller, master’s candidate in Education and graduate assistant for the Office of Leadership and Student Organizations.

This spring break, students had three options for where they could travel and volunteer in local community service:

  • Norway, South Carolina cleaning an uninhabitable auditorium that was vacant for 24 years to provide a space for a community center, and helping improve the town’s water system;
  • Kissimmee, Florida, working with children at Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit vacation village for children with terminally ill diseases; and
  • New Orleans, Louisiana, collaborating with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans to rebuild homes and help areas still affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Twenty-three USFSP students and five staff participated in the USB trips this year.

Miller, who oversees the USB program, noted that it aligns especially with USF St Petersburg’s overall mission to inspire scholars to lead lives of impact.

“Being an active citizen in the community builds character, leadership skills, altruism and ethical principles,” Miller said. “These are huge takeaways that students gain from participating in these trips – being exposed to new environments, meeting new people, helping people they don’t even know, just for the pure experience of helping others!”

USB students painting fire hydrants in Norway, SC. From left:Ryan Razavi, Joshefin Crespo, Maria Garcia Saravia

USB students painting fire hydrants in Norway, SC. From left:Ryan Razavi, Joshefin Crespo, Maria Garcia Saravia

Jerry Brown, a senior and pre-med Biology major, was the USB site leader for the Norway trip. The current population of the town hovers around 300, with a median age of 51.

“I thought it was a great idea to go to a place where we could make the biggest impact because they don’t get a lot of help,” Brown said. “They could really use some of the manual labor that college students can offer.”

Beyond the work in the auditorium, the group also used metal detectors, probes and a GPS tracking system to find water man-holes that had been paved over when roads were updated.

“We were able to help them map the area, so they can come back in the future for repairs and other installments,” said Brown.

Natalie Guerra, a senior Biology major and also a pre-med student, was the site leader for the Kissimmee trip. She wanted to provide an experience for other students interested in pursuing careers in the medical field.

“Perspective is extremely valuable to have in any field,” Guerra said. “I thought it would be beneficial to provide a unique point-of-view for students aiming for a career in health.”

Give Kids the World Village reports that over 27,000 children are diagnosed with a terminal illness each year in the United States. The nonprofit boasts an 84-acre “storybook” resort in Central Florida that caters to children with life-threatening illness, providing a cost-free vacation and haven for kids and their families to enjoy a theme park similar to Disney World.

Guerra said each child gets to design their own star in the castle, so they can leave a permanent mark. The attractions in the resort have a different theme every day. Like Christmas, the kids can have fun and earn additional prizes or experiences.

“This hands-on experience impacted me as a human being by making me acutely aware of how much a seemingly minimal interaction can impact a life,” Guerra said. “As a college student, it showed me that I can make a positive difference.”

The USB program has grown over the past three years. Last year there were only two trips offered.

“I strongly believe that these programs make students not only better students, but better people,” Miller said. “I would like to see more get involved. Out of all the programs our office offers, the volunteer work and these trips have the most impact on students.”

USB students in rejuvenated Norway auditorium.

USB students in rejuvenated Norway auditorium. From left: Kara Morosky, Jerry Brown, Ryan Razavi, Joshefin Crespo, Maria Garcia Saravia, Heba Eltall, Laura Mercado, Josh Miller

It was eye-opening for the Norway group to realize what they consider basic privileges are not accessible in rural areas like Norway, a town that consists of just a Family Dollar store and a local restaurant.

“To have a small taste of what it’s like to not have access to basic necessities or medical care, it really opened my eyes and made me want to do this more often, to help out more people,” Brown said.

Guerra also found great reward in participating in the USB program and hopes that other students will take advantage of the trips next year.

“Not only will you expand your mind in a week’s time, but you will also make life-long friends and memories that you will never forget,” Guerra said. “Not to mention, you will make a difference in some lives you might not encounter otherwise!”

Article by Karlana June, USFSP Content Specialist.