Alternative Spring Break Trips Put OC on the Map

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For many college students, spring break is about the beach, sunshine and relaxation, but that’s not the case for generations of The University of Olivet students. For many Comets driven to “Be More and Do Good,” spring break is an opportunity to serve others.

This year, The University of Olivet is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Alternative Spring Break program. Since 1999, the College has hosted service learning trips in March, helping students travel to communities in need across the U.S. This year, students traveled to North Carolina and Florida, marking some of the largest overnight service trips in the OC’s history.

Mike Fales, The University of Olivet director of service learning and campus ministries and assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and religion, led the first Alternative Spring Break trip to the Heifer International Project Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. Eight students had the opportunity to perform a week of service and learn about world hunger.

This year, Professor Fales led students to Daytona Beach, Florida, for hurricane relief roof repair March 8-17. Reflecting on two decades of trips, Professor Fales has an overwhelming sense of pride for OC students.

“For a college of this size to have this many students willing to give up their spring break to make the world a better place is an extraordinary thing,” he said.

Senior Amanda Gruszka is one such student. This year, she set a personal goal to attend every service trip offered to her.

“Every trip I go on I learn something new and each experience is different,” Amanda said. “I want to help people that can’t help themselves. Each trip is rewarding knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life. While in Florida, we repaired hurricane-damaged roofs. One of the houses we worked on was owned by an 89-year-old. She was very grateful for us working on her roof, and I’m glad that I was able to help.”

Further, Amanda notes that service trips allow students to travel, learn real world skills and have a lot of fun, too. “Professor Fales said I almost know how to build a whole house now just from going on service trips,” Amanda joked.

In addition to hurricane relief work in Florida, Comets traveled to the Wilmington, North Carolina, area to repair a flood-damaged church March 9-16. For senior Maggie Graham, the opportunity was a reminder that giving time is just as powerful as giving treasure.

“I had seen what other students experienced on service trips and it was amazing!” Maggie exclaimed. “I wanted the experience for myself, and it was amazing to help those who truly needed it. The church was able to hold service just four days after we arrived. Seeing the look on the members’ faces was my favorite part of the trip. Serving others makes you realize that there is always something you can give, even if it is just time.”

Regardless of how or where they serve, students view these trips as some of the most rewarding experiences of their college career.

“Performing service has helped me grow a lot as a person,” Amanda said. “I remember the first trip I went on I was nervous and didn’t want to work with other people. Now, it doesn’t matter who I work with. I’m comfortable working with anyone — I even prefer working with new people to get to know them. Doing service has also opened my eyes to a lot of things. We often help homeowners who have been living in poor conditions for possibly years. They can’t help themselves and it’s touching to see how they act toward you.”

Learn more about The University of Olivet’s Alternative Spring Break program by contacting Professor Fales at mfales@uolivet.edu or 269.749.7624. Learn more about The University of Olivet by contacting the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or admissions@uolivet.edu.


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