Painting fences on a farm that teaches farming skills to men rehabilitating from drugs and alcohol doesn’t sound like a typical activity for college students on spring break.
Neither does working at a home for boys, from 8-18 years old, teaching them English and playing volleyball, basketball, Frisbee, and soccer with them.
But that is just what a dozen Keuka College students will do as part of the College’s annual Alternative Spring Break when they travel to Quesada, Costa Rica March 20-27. These students will not be working on their suntans. They will simply be working—hard.
Hosted by Mary Curtiss Miller ’53 and her husband Ralph, and led by Rev. Eric Detar, Keuka College chaplain and director of the Center for Spiritual Life, and Tim White, assistant director of residential life and director of the Success Advocates, the students are part of Alternative Spring Break’s first international edition. The Millers have been missionaries in Costa Rica for more than 50 years.
“When Tim and I first began leading Alternative Spring Break trips four years ago, they were seemingly random, but we always found someone, and some way, to help,” said Detar. “We are beginning to become more strategic in our trips, and we want to offer four unique experiences throughout a student’s years at Keuka College. We hope to offer trips in an urban setting, an environmental setting, a rural setting, and an international trip. During each trip, we will look at culture, stewardship, and poverty of each area we visit.”
Junior Faith Garlington is particularly excited about working at the home for boys.
“As an occupational science major, I am interested to see the differences between how the boys play as to how kids in America play,” said Garlington, a Boonville resident. “I want to see how and when they reach their milestones in a culture that is different from mine. I am excited to connect what I have learned in the classroom with what I will see.”
Katie Crossley, a sophomore unified early childhood education major from Panama, N.Y. chose to participate in Alternative Spring Break because she believes she felt “a calling to go and is exactly where I am supposed to be in my life right now,” while Bloomfield resident Jeff Miller says he wants to reorient himself.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in your own world and forget that we are more fortunate than a lot of others in the world,” said the junior occupational science major. “I am grateful for what I have.”
For Lindsay Holmes, a senior occupational science major from West Henrietta, this is her second Alternative Spring Break trip.
“I went on the trip to Washington, DC last year, and experienced the culture of the homeless; it was eye-opening,” she said. “I think this will be similar, but on a larger scale.”
Emily Grecco, a sophomore psychology major from Waverly and Haley Jordan, a junior occupational science major from Auburn, agree that participating in Alternative Spring Break will be a reality check.
“I will be helping people with something they need, and not just be on another vacation where I am a tourist,” said Grecco.
“It’s easy to think that that one person can’t have much of an impact, but we’ve seen from past trips that it’s not true. I am so glad that I will not be a tourist and that I will get to interact with the people on a greater level,” said White.
While the students will not be tourists, they will be able to explore the country through activities such as speeding down a zip line, go horseback riding, swimming in the hot springs of Arenal Volcano, and visiting Sarchi, a quaint painted oxcart village. The group will also participate in worship services at a Methodist Church.
Other students participating include: Emily Pidgeon, a junior social work major from Oneonta; Rachel Guthrie, a junior child and family studies major from North Rose; Ashley Terry, a sophomore political science and history major from Andes; Emily Black, a sophomore political science and history major from Athens, Pa.; Jenny Schafer, a junior occupational science major from Fayetteville; and Patricia Wallace, a senior occupational science major from Bath.
The requests were simple: a teddy bear, a baby doll, books, CDs, puzzles, pajamas, and slippers.
And for the 46 residents of Penn Yan Manor Nursing Home, these requests—and more—were fulfilled by 23 members and advisers of Keuka College’s Student Senate and Sigma Alpha Pi Honor Society.
“Heather Reed, activities director at the nursing home, contacted me and asked if we had any student groups interested in pairing up with Manor residents,” said Eva Moberg-Sarver, director of student activities. “Britani Pruner, a junior English major from Penneville and president of Student Senate, jumped at the chance to help. She then worked with members of Sigma Alpha Pi, who volunteered to co-sponsor the event.”
Erica Piedmonte, a senior management major from Auburn and secretary of Sigma Alpha Phi, assisted in the delivery of the gifts.
“My mother made two of the residents two hand-knitted scarves each, and I gave them everything they requested,” she said. “I think this was a great opportunity to give people some Christmas spirit.”
Madeline McColgin, a junior unified childhood/special education major from Penn Yan, liked adopting a resident “because I work in a group home, and I know how the residents feel when they do not get Christmas and do not get to see their families. Each resident said ‘thank you’ to me and you could tell they were filled with joy from having us there.”
After speaking with each of the residents, Reed sent over paper angels with gift ideas, according to Moberg-Sarver.
“The residents’ wish lists were heartwarming,” said Moberg-Sarver. “Some of them offered to share gifts with their spouse who was also at the Manor, or asked for donations to local places in need for the holidays. Each student was able to take an angel and choose gifts according to these wishes.”
Piedmonte bought things like holiday pins, blankets, books, and calendars, while McColgin gave her resident a blouse, earrings, and a CD. Stephen Funk, a junior psychology major from Homer, donated money to Milly’s Pantry in honor of his resident.
“She was so pleased with this kind gesture she had a thank you card written for Stephen before we left the building,” said Moberg-Sarver. “One student purchased a baby doll for a resident who never had one growing up.”
Carlie Ellison, a senior occupational science major from Belfast, “felt great after leaving Penn Yan Manor. I felt like I had made someone’s day, and it made me feel a little better about myself. It was great spending time with residents, hearing some of their stories, and seeing pictures of themselves and their families in their rooms.”
Another highlight of the gift delivery for Piedmonte was being able to “sit down with one of the residents I bought for and having a long talk with her.”
Ellison “would like to do it for holidays throughout the year.”
Other students who participated in the delivery included Meghan Marks, a senior childhood education major from Horseheads; Jeff Miller, a sophomore occupational science major from Bloomfield; Becky Allen, a sophomore childhood/special education major from Oxford; Taylor Smith, a junior occupational science major from Webster; and Bridgette Fletcher, a junior psychology major from Walton.