Alternative Spring Break is a work party on the Coast

Sun Herald

Mary Perez
BILOXI — Mary Davis didn’t expect to spend a week at the beach when she signed up for Alternative Spring Break.

While some of her classmates are partying on tropical beaches, she and 62 students from colleges across the country spent their spring break volunteering with United Way in South Mississippi and their nights in the dorms across the street from the beach at Seashore United Methodist Assembly on U.S. 90 in Biloxi.

They were among several groups of college students on the Coast this week who spruced up the Biloxi Town Green and other parks, painted at nonprofit centers, worked on computers and chipped in wherever they were needed.

A freshman majoring in psychology and minoring in leadership, development and business, Davis said she went on the Internet to find an Alternative Spring Break program and signed up for United Way and South Mississippi.

“This place is full of energy,” she said. She learned to paint and her team organized supplies at the Boys and Girls Clubs, where first graders asked them, “Why didn’t you go to a regular spring break?”

Davis said, “I wanted to inspire people, to do something different.”

Carlos “Charlie” Romo was one of five volunteers who drove 14 hours from Texas A&M International University in Laredo to Biloxi to volunteer. They are members of the Student United Way Club and he said what they learned in South Mississippi they will take back to apply in their community. He took hundreds of pictures of the students at work and said, “Even the smallest thing is a big help.”

Most of the college students had never been to Mississippi, said Juliane Molesworth of Long Beach, assistant director of the volunteer center for the United Way of South Mississippi. This is the group’s seventh Alternative Spring Break.

“I think most people were pleasantly surprised being on the Coast,” she said. After working all day, the students had bonfires on the beach, watched the Katrina film at the Biloxi Visitors Center and discussed the impact of the storm and the oil spill.

Many of the 10 projects the students worked on this week were still tied to Katrina, she said. They built partitions at the Salvation Army shelter in Gulfport, where the original was destroyed by the storm.

Habitat for Humanity is hosting 85 students from seven colleges from March 2 through May 25. Next week, 10 students from the University of Connecticut will be working on the Coast.

“Collegiate Challenge provides the students with an opportunity to help build affordable housing in the area,” said Austin Coomer, Habitat’s volunteer service manager. “The work they’ll do during their spring break will have a lasting impact.”

The 10 students from the Boston University School of Law working at the Mississippi Center for Justice this week were among 63 BU Law students participating in the school’s spring break pro bono service trips to 11 cities across the country.

“Our goal is to show students how lawyers can get involved and what poverty and legal need look like in different geographic and topical areas,” says Maura Kelly, assistant dean for career development and public service.

Hope CDA in Biloxi welcomed students from theUniversity of Kentucky, Marywood University in Pennsylvania and St. Francis College in Illinois. Another group of students is coming next week, said Raeshawn Davis, volunteer coordinator and outreach specialist.