Unlike most college students, who trek to warmer climates during spring breaks, a group of Indiana State University students traveled to Tennessee this spring to lend a helping hand.
They were joined by former Northview High School student and current ISU Graduate Assistant Whitney Medworth.
Medworth, 24, is currently enrolled in Graduate School at ISU in the Student Affairs and Higher Education program. She has a graduate assistantship at the ISU Center for Public Service and Community Engagement.
"We coordinate volunteer opportunities for students as well as connect the community to the university," Medworth said. "I do a number of events during the year, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Global Youth Service day."
Medworth led the 12 students on an "Alternative Spring Break," trip to Maryville, Tenn., to do service work with the Cherokee Native Americans and the local environment.
"Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a national initiative focused on creating opportunities for students to serve their communities and others," Medworth told The Brazil Times.
ASB was created by an organization called Break Away and is intended to combine service and learning.
"Indiana State university has held an ASB trip for the past six years, sending Sycamores all across the country to participate in service of many different types," Medworth said. "It started at ISU after Hurricane Katrina, when students were interested in going to help with relief work and has continued ever since.
"ASB is a great opportunity for ISU students to participate in their national community and offer services to those who need it most.
"The ASB trip has by far been the most rewarding. We spent months planning the trips and to see all trips be successful and have such a great impact on the students was really special."
The ISU Center for Public Service and Community Engagement sponsors the trip each year. However, students have to take part in fundraisers to pay for trips.
"We started marketing this to students back in September and by December, we starting having monthly meetings with the students about logistics of the group as well as group building and doing educational activities to inform the students of the communities they would be serving in," Medworth said.
The students started the process with a fee of $400 to attend, which was designated for food, lodging and travel expenses while on the trip.
Fundraiser evenings took place at several businesses as well as a letter writing campaign spearheaded by the students.
"The students are giving up their spring break to do service, so it's great if we can allow them to do that for as low of a cost as possible," Medworth said.
She said this year, they took three different groups to three different locations. A total of 30 students participated.
Students traveled to Kansas City to work with Operation Breakthrough, which is an organization that works with inner city youth. In addition, other students traveled to Memphis, Tenn., to work with MIFA Handyman, an organization that does home improvement work for low income senior citizens -- often with disabilities.
Still, others made the trip to Maryville, Tenn., to work with the Once Upon a Time organization, which works with the Cherokee people as well as the environment.
"Students can also use this for class credit," Medworth said. "It's a Recreation and Sports Management class. They get credit for what they did on the trip as well as doing presentations and projects once they return."
While in Maryville, Medworth said the students spent time in the local Snowbird Cherokee Community performing service work for children, senior citizens and work at local Cherokee homes.
Students also took part in environmental work while on the trip, helping remove invasive and exotic plants that have killed off native plants in the area.
Medworth said the students helped Park Rangers at the Smokey Mountain National Forest remove a total of 21,147 plants.
"As well as doing service work during the day, the students really had a chance to be immersed in the culture of the area as well," Medworth said. "It was a trip that got you experienced in living in the wilderness, learning and serving the Cherokee community and doing environmental work."
During the trip, students stayed in bunkhouses and had to learn to use a wood-burning stove to keep warm. They also used an outhouse as a restroom and a showerhouse to bathe.
"Most students are not used to this lifestyle, so it was a good change for them," Medworth said.
Medworth said the community experience the students gained was valuable.
"The students learned a lot about themselves on a trip like this as well as those they are serving," she said. "It's a powerful experience when you spend a week giving up your own time to help others. You learn what's important to you and what's not."
Medworth said the students realized the impact they had on the community when a woman cried as they announced they would be leaving.
"It's moment like that where you realize that even the smallest things you do can make a difference in someone else's life," she said. "We really got attached to the people in the Snowbird Community and in a way, they were helping us, more than we could ever help them."