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.
Just before Christmas, Lisa Makarick finished a course in community health. Just after Christmas, Makarick discovered a profound contrast between the classroom and Cabarete, Dominican Republic, where she traveled with 11 others from Keuka College to bring health education to some of the youngest residents of the community.
“It’s one thing to do a windshield study on [community health] and it’s a whole other beast to do a service project, to get down there with the people and work hand-in-hand with them,” said Makarick, a Hammondsport resident.
Makarick is pursuing her baccalaureate nursing degree through the College’s Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP). She attends classes at Corning Community College, one of 2o ASAP sites around the state. Nine other nursing students from cohorts in the Syracuse, Elmira, Ithaca, and Utica areas, and one occupational science major from the home campus in Keuka Park, also traveled to Cabarete.
From January 2-9, the Keuka College group, led by Patty Mattingly, associate professor of nursing, assisted the Mariposa DR Foundation, which invests in sustainable solutions to end generational poverty, serving girls as young as 8-years-old. By battling barriers that keep the poor vulnerable and limited, and offering support such as access to quality health care and education, the Mariposa DR Foundation seeks to educate, empower and employ girls in Cabarete to ultimately give back to their community.
The students presented a workshop on dental hygiene and hand-washing, gave a first-aid presentation to parents, and made home visits to assess safety risks and recommend follow-up by Foundation staff. In addition, students also toured a public hospital and an HIV clinic in the area. The trip also fulfilled Keuka College Field Period ™ requirements for the students. Typically, a Field Period ™ enables a student to explore professions, other cultures, or even provide community service for others, but usually, only one of those elements happens at one time. However, the 2014 Keuka College team accomplished all of the above.
According to Makarick, a maternal service nurse and mother of five who will finish her nursing program in April, the trip was an “amazing experience” that she hopes to repeat. The team worked with 15 girls, ages 8 -11, providing encouragement with extracurricular activities that included simple games and health-care instruction. In that region, children only attend a half-day of school and often lack positive alternatives to “just wandering around all afternoon,” said Makarick.
Thanks to one of her daughters, Makarick said she was educated on the threat of sex trafficking and modern slavery facing these young girls. According to New Friends, New Life, a human rights agency seeking to raise awareness, 13 is the average age at which American girls, particularly those vulnerable to poverty, are trafficked into the sex industry. For the poor and vulnerable from developing countries, where legal protection is nearly nonexistent, sexual exploitation and forced prostitution may happen even earlier. As such, Makarick said the impact the team could make was clear.
“I was absolutely not disappointed,” said Makarick. “You can see the effect fairly quickly, even small, little [things] of having someone encourage them … they just bonded with us, and we learned from them, too.”
The group split into two teams of six to conduct home inspections in the neighborhoods where the girls lived, and, in some cases, the level of poverty was “pretty overwhelming,” Mattingly said, describing scenarios where rat poison was left where children could come in contact with it. One student described barbed wire “clotheslines” so low to the ground that children’s bodies and faces bore cuts from running into it. Other elements of culture shock were encountered in el barrio (the ghetto) and the local hospital, which had just five beds in its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and where equipment and staff practice was like “turning the clock back 30 years,” said Makarick.
Jamaica, Miami, South Padre Island, and Puerto Vallarta are among the Travel Channel’s Top 12 spring break destinations for college students this year.
A destination notably missing is Washington, D.C., probably due to its lack of palm trees and white sand beaches.
But a dozen Keuka College students, who chose to swap suntans for shovels, will travel to the nation’s capital April 1-6 to spend spring break helping those in need. The students, along with Eric Detar, College chaplain, and Tim White, resident director for Blyley and Harrington Halls and a retention counselor, are participating in Keuka College’s annual Alternative Spring Break.
The Keuka team will work with the Center for Student Missions (CSM), which provides urban missions and service experiences for youth, adult, and family groups.
While working in Washington, the Keuka students will prepare and serve breakfast and lunch to the homeless, assist with an after-school program for elementary school children, help with the construction and renovation of a church, and assist at a senior center day care program.
“Right now, we just know each other by name and maybe a couple of other things,” said Detar. “The students who choose to take Alternative Spring Break trips will have a unique shared group experience that no one else will have. By the end of this trip, each of us will be much more than just a face around campus.”
Courtney Ray, a junior social work major from Cato, believes the trip will be an eye-opening experience.
“As a social work major, I anticipate working with the kind of people I will work with in my career,” she said.
Kaysie Burnett, a junior education major from Shortsville, wanted to go on the Alternative Spring Break “because I have never been to Washington, D.C., and thought a service trip would be a good way to spend spring break.”
And while participating in a mission trip may be new to Burnett, helping others is in Nina Fusco’s blood. The freshman occupational science major has been practicing social responsibility through her church since she was 13. But since her church closed several months ago, the Mechanicsville resident has been looking for a service project. So, when she heard about the Alternative Spring Break trip, Fusco jumped at the chance.
“Participating in this trip lets me continue doing something I love to do, and I am looking forward to going,” said Fusco.
So are Penn Yan resident Alicia Parkhurst, who is pursuing her master’s degree in education, and junior Francesca Spina.
Two years ago, Spina, an adolescent social studies major, worked with nine other students at Franciscans for the Poor in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the 2011 edition of Alternative Spring Break.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and it changed my perspective on my life,” said the Rochester resident. “It made me realize how blessed I am and how much I can give to others in need. That is way I want to go to Washington and help again.”
After the students have performed the day’s work, they will have an opportunity for reflection at the Douglas Memorial Methodist Church, and enjoy dinners at ethnic restaurants. Also planned are visits to the National Mall, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
White expects the Keuka group to be impacted by what they see and do while in Washington.
“The work we will do has been going on for a long time, and will continue after we leave,” said White. “We will get a snapshot of what people do every day to help those who need it most. What we get from this trip will be far more that what we give.”
Other students participating in Alternative Spring Break include: Robby Magee, a senior adolescent social studies/special education major from Fairport; Megan Russo, a freshman psychology major from Ceaderville, N.J.; Mattie Waldstein, a senior education studies major from Needham, Mass.; Patricia Wallace, a junior occupational science major from Bath; Lindsay Holmes, a junior occupational science major from West Henrietta; Sean Boutin, a sophomore criminology/criminal justice major from Purling; and Niki Chase, a junior social work major from Oneonta.