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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Not Your Average Spring Break

    Warm sandy beaches, rolling waves and glowing sunlight are just a few characteristics of a spring break island getaway.

    However, storm surge, gusting winds and rising floodwater from Hurricane Ike in September 2008 swept homes and businesses off their foundation, leaving thousands homeless and causing billions of dollars in damage to Galveston, Texas. Students from Stony Brook University are traveling to the Gulf Coast, at the expense of an exotic yet typical Spring Break, to give aid to a devastated community.

    For the past three years, Stony Brook has helped the New Orleans community, where the most destructive hurricane in United States history was recorded in 2005, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On Apr. 4, 40 students involved in the Alternative Spring Break Outreach program will travel to Galveston to rebuild a community washed away by a hurricane 600 miles wide, nearly the size of Texas.

    “Because of our group’s size and age, we were needed most in Galveston, where the less skilled but major work still needs to be done,” said Kelly Reeve, 21, the president of Alternative Spring Break Outreach. She has participated in the program since 2006. “We met so many people down in Musician’s Village, New Orleans willing to share stories and inspire everyone around them,” she said. “The people of Musician’s Village were leaders in their own right, inspiring a common vision and enabling others to act.”

    Developed by students of the Stony Brook University Annual Student/Faculty/Staff retreat in 2005-2006, Alternative Spring Break Outreach is a student-run community service program. In the past, the group worked with Habitat for Humanity. This year, they are working with Community Collaborations International, a nonprofit organization that works with universities and other groups to provide support for service-oriented travel in the United States and abroad to volunteer where help is needed most.

    “New Orleans’ atmosphere is amazing,” said Sana Hashmi, co-president of Alternative Spring Break Outreach and participant for the past two years. She said the island environment of Galveston would present a “different atmosphere” and create more of a group experience than in the past.

    “The poverty here [in America] is unbelievable,” Hashmi said, and is so starkly spread out that across from beautiful mansions there’s rubble. Residents will stop volunteers on the street to say thank you, she said, “People are really, really grateful.”

    In deciding the destination for this year’s community service, Reeve and Hashmi considered three questions: With what organization will the group be working, where are other schools going and where will the group enjoy going the most?

    Other destinations considered were Memphis, Tennessee and West Virginia. Ultimately, leaders of the student group spoke with several volunteer organizations and decided Galveston needed the most assistance. “When deciding to help others, I think it’s important to keep in mind their needs, not just what you think their needs are,” Reeve said. “It’s easy to see a need. It’s quite another to be able to pinpoint exactly what that need is.”

    Forty-one students are signed up for the program, 50 being the limit, including two advisors, Chris O’Brien of Athletic Training and Ellen Driscoll of the Center for Prevention and Outreach. Each student pays $500, which covers the volunteer organization and transportation. The group will stay at a volunteer center in a school. Fund-raising, donations and contributions from charities raise money for the project. This year, they raised $396 from a bake sale.

    Given that the group went in New Orleans in the past, Hashmi said it was time to try something new, to “branch out and work with new communities.”

    In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans resulting in 1,500 deaths and damages of $81 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane when it made land fall in Louisiana while Ike was a Category 2. Hurricane and wave expert Steve Lyons of The Weather Channel said Ike is likely to become one of the top five costliest hurricanes in history, possibly climbing into the top three, with Katrina at the top of that list.

    Galveston is “a place many don’t remember as being devastated by Hurricane Ike and even fewer realize still needs tremendous help,” Reeve said. “I hope the work will open students’ eyes and the place and people will inspire them to continue a life of service.”

    At Stony Brook University, Alternative Spring Break Outreach strives to provide community service to communities in need. Its purpose is to connect students and community members while encouraging growth, mutual awareness and life long learning.

    “I think as inhabitants of Long Island, it’s sometimes easy for us to forget what the elements are really capable of. In the past, students have wondered why residents of New Orleans would want to continue to call a place prone to disasters home,” she said. “After their trip, they have a better understanding and can empathize with residents wanting to remain in the place they call home.”

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