This spring, as college students from across the country flocked to Florida beaches, some FGCU students left the nest for an alternative spring break, trading in sunbathing for service. Sixteen members of the Dominican Republic Outreach Program and 20 students involved with FGCU’s Alternative Spring Break flew to the Dominican Republic and New York City, respectively, to help communities in need.
Freshman Daryl Cordova grew up in Chicago, surrounded by poverty and violence. Still, the high levels of both in the D.R. shocked him.
“It was nothing compared to what we saw,” Cordova said. “(The poverty) was so visible; there was no hiding it.”
Cordova is a member of D.R.O.P., a group that adviser Brian Bovard estimates has 50 active members. D.R.O.P. members spend time throughout the year fundraising and gathering clothing, sports equipment and hygiene product donations to bring to the D.R. for their annual 10-day trip.
Bovard said that while he has not yet calculated the value of the items D.R.O.P. was able to bring to the D.R., it was able to collect 2,800 items. He said that’s about three times more than the club collected last year.
Members selected through a point system and interview process get to travel to the D.R. and hand-deliver those donations to local kids who struggle with poverty, through a nonprofit organization called Acción Callejera, or Street Action.
Hand delivering the donations and working with the 4- to 17-year-old boys directly is one of the aspects of D.R.O.P. that sophomore social work major Joselin Reyes said she likes about the group.
“You actually get to go and see the impact you have,” Reyes said.
Each year, the D.R.O.P. group plans activities for the boys based on a theme. This year, the theme was sustainability and the ripple effect that one person’s actions can have.
One of the activities the group participated in this year was building a playground out of recycled materials to go along with the sustainability theme. The playground, made of tires and wooden pallets, took the group one day to make. Reyes said the experience was very powerful for her.
“To see the boys and the kids play in it, that was really impactful,” Reyes said. “It’s more to them than just a playground. They’re going to take care of it. You’ve never thought that a tire could mean so much.”
Reyes, who has been on the trip twice now, said her first trip helped her focus on a career path and switch from a major in nursing to one in social work.
“Do you know when you like something, but you don’t love it?” Reyes said. “That’s what nursing was for me. D.R.O.P. showed me what I love doing and what I should do with my life.”
This was Cordova’s first trip to the D.R., and he said he would like to go back and volunteer on his own this summer.
“These kids are the change to come, and I hope I can be a part of that and help them on their journey,” Cordova said.
Cordova has volunteered before, but said the D.R.O.P. trip showed him the impact that just one volunteer can have.
“The power that one individual has to impact a person’s life is incredible,” Cordova said. “People talk the talk but don’t walk the walk … If we were just a little more selfless and thought about each other, this campus would be so much happier.”
This was the last D.R.O.P. trip for senior and group vice president Maria Reyes, but she said her three trips to the D.R. have changed her life and taught her a lot about leadership.
“D.R.O.P. has showed me that the more you work with a team, the more effective you can be,” Reyes said.
Reyes said that before joining D.R.O.P., she tried to keep her days to a strict plan and often felt like she was falling behind if she didn’t meet her personal deadlines.
“I was always a planner, but now I’m a planner with flexibility,” Reyes said. “I live a very different life, and I’m so thankful for this journey.”
Reyes said she does plan to volunteer in the D.R. again after graduation and was inspired during this trip to see older boys from her first trip return to their local Acción Callejera youth center to visit her.
Many now have jobs or are pursuing an education.
New York City
While D.R.O.P. members were working with children in the heat of the D.R., other FGCU students were bundled up in New York City, volunteering with a different organization every day.
Site coordinator and junior Emmalyn Green said she and fellow coordinator Evelyn Philistin spent six months planning FGCU’s Alternative Spring Break, which takes students to volunteer in new cities every spring.
“The point of the trip is to expose participants to a variety of service agencies,” Green said. “Then, they can bring it back to Florida.”
Green said the group worked with the New York Food Bank, Union Settlement, Project Hospitality, City Harvest, Cathedral Community Cares and Habitat for Humanity.
Paul Olivera, a junior and computer information systems major, was a site leader at this year’s trip. Last year, he went on the Alternative Spring Break trip to Chicago.
“Last year, when I went on this trip, I thought I hadn’t done much for the university,” Olivera said. “After my sister passed (away), I realized that I could help other people.”
Olivera said the group stuck to a consistent schedule during the weeklong trip, waking up and eating breakfast at their Hostel International lodging and then
volunteering at a different site until about 4 p.m. At the end of each day, a site leader, site coordinator or staff
leader would host an
educational session for the group. Olivera hosted a session about finding your passion.
One thing that surprised Olivera about the trip was how well the group of volunteers got along and how they did not become “clique-y.”
“Everyone got along with everyone,” Olivera said.
Social work major and junior Philistin had never been to New York before this trip. Being thrown into a new culture is one of the things Philistin said she likes about the Alternative Spring Break trips.
“You’re going into a new situation, and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Philistin said.
One of Philistin’s favorite locations to volunteer at was Project Hospitality, a not-for-profit interfaith group based in Staten Island.
“In that one day, we just had so many interactions with powerful people,”
The group met a firefighter who was a first responder at 9/11 and also met the father of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old man who died by police hands in July 2014 with the infamous last words, “I can’t breathe.”
While there, the volunteers got to help out at Project Hospitality’s soup kitchen and food pantry.
Both Olivera and Philistin said they do not regret spending spring break volunteering instead of relaxing.
“I love service,” Philistin said. “Any opportunity that I could have to do service, I would do in a heartbeat.”
Students interested in learning more about Alternative Spring Break can contact Green, the Student Government director of civic engagement, at [email protected]