Alternative Spring Break trips offer much more than a week’s vacation

Christine Lee, Life Editor

On May 22, 2011 a tornado one mile wide and six miles long struck the city of Joplin, Mo., leveling the city. On March 2, an outbreak of tornados struck Eastern Kentucky and also wiped out entire towns.

It was time to send in the Army. Of Colonels, that is.

This year’s Alternative Spring Break had students heading to four distinct locations at home and abroad to lend a hand. They were Joplin, Mo., Kentucky, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.


Joplin, Mo.

Upon arrival in the city in Southwestern Missouri and hour west of Springfield, Mo., a group of six students and three chaperones encountered a site that can only be described as “incredible.”

The group headed to Joplin knew the city needed help and were prepared to work to help out, but were unprepared for just how extensive the damage was. Even a year after the city was struck, the damage was still apparent.

“I had an idea of what to expect but it’s so much worse than you can ever imagine without actually seeing what it’s like,” junior business administration and accounting major John Sweeney, one of the students who went to Joplin, said.

Student Development coordinator and Joplin chaperone Melissa Howells was humbled by the people of Joplin’s resilience in wanting to rebuild their city.

“My impression of Joplin was that no one is leaving, they are rebuilding and that’s all there is to it; they’re not going to let this them scare them out,” Howells said. “Most of the people who have been in Joplin have been there their entire lives and they are not giving up on their city.”

Sweeney feels he made a difference by helping with relief work in Joplin. He said he could see firsthand that the group’s work was helping residents out.

“There were a couple days where we were helping people at their property clearing houses that were damaged by the storms and that was huge for them because they couldn’t afford to pay somebody to come in and take care of it so they had two trailer homes they had to completely disassemble by hand,” Sweeney said. “It was just an elderly father and his son so if they had to do it by themselves it would have taken weeks and we had one entire home down in three days.”

Sweeney said even clearing lots made a difference and said you could see it on their faces the satisfaction people were feeling about their work.

Howells said she cannot say enough about how satisfied she is with the work the students accomplished.

“They were always looking for more to do and you can only accomplish so much in a week but I feel completely satisfied with what we did,” Howells said.



Since last year, students have gone to Eastern Kentucky to work with the ministry organization Christian Appalachian Project housing facet to repair homes. The group was originally slated to do general home improvement repairs and renovations for the elderly, disabled and those who can’t work for themselves.

But when an outbreak of tornados swept through Magoffin and Johnson counties in Eastern Kentucky, the group was thrust into helping those affected by the tornadoes.

Campus Interfaith coordinator and Kentucky chaperone Caitlin Czeh described seeing the damage firsthand as “heartbreaking.”

“There are no words to describe how heartbreaking and just the complete and utter devastation that you saw,” Czeh said.

Sophomore psychology major D.J Rembish said it was sad to see how people lost everything they had in 50 seconds but inspiring to know the work the group did made a difference to those affected.

“There was a family that came in and they literally cried on our shoulders saying ‘thank you so much, you are my inspiration, you’re the reason why I keep going on,'” Rembish said.

Rembish described the work as physical; pulling apart houses, cutting wires and sifting through houses that were no longer stable. He said the work was emotional to some.

“For some people it was overwhelming picking up people’s lives; children’s toys, shirts, seeing how someone’s life had been placed out in front of you,” Rembish said.

The group was broken into two teams who worked a church, three houses and a holler, a piece of property that one person owns with multiple homes on it that one family occupies.

Czeh said she could not be prouder of the students’ work in Kentucky.

“We worked through snow and then blistering heat, in complete mud. We were battered and bruised and exhausted from working nine and 10 hour days and the students never said ‘I can’t’ or ‘I want to be done,’ they just kept on going,” Czeh said.


Costa Rica

The expression “Pura Vida” is Spanish for “pure life” and is universally known in Costa Rica since the 1950’s.

This expression certainly described the experiences of the students in assistant professor of political science Dr. Andrew Miller’s Politics of Coffee class who went to the Latin American country.

“The lifestyle there is a lot more laid back, the people are extremely friendly and it just gives you a wholesome and warm feeling everywhere you go,” said senior psychology major Justine Adams, who went to Costa Rica this year.

Having gone to the Dominican Republic last year, Adams said although she loved both trips, her trip to Costa Rica as a service learning trip had more variety to it.

“You did different projects every day rather than focusing on one specific project, so there’s a little more diversity with the services (done),” Adams said.

Adams said going to Costa Rica taught her about the culture of another country.

“I learned a lot about the environment and different ways of life that Costa Rica has that we don’t have in the U.S,” Adams said.


Dominican Republic

As soon as Willie Eggleston walked into a school in the Dominican Republic, he was greeted with the chants of “Americano!” from the children.

Eggleston, a senior pharmacy student who went to the Dominican Republic, described the children as affectionate and said he didn’t expect the children to trust the group so quickly.

“We walked into that school, taught our first class and had a recess after that with the kids and they were climbing on us and hugging us,” Eggleston said. “The trust was immediate.”

The group worked with the organization Outreach360 teaching in English to students in grades kindergarten to 7th grade.

Eggleston said although the country was poor but the people are friendly and willing to jump into any situation, and everyone says hello.

“No matter where you were, no matter what the language was, you still felt like you were at home because these people were so friendly,” Eggleston said.

Sweeney, Rembish, Adams and Eggleston said their trips were excellent, life-changing and amazing experiences for them they will surely never forget.