Students to forgo spring break fun for lots of smiles

For most college students, spring break means time away from classes, sunning on the beach or just relaxing at home with friends and family.

Not so for 11 Penn State Harrisburg undergraduate students who are giving up that restful week in March to aid Mississippi residents continuing to suffer from the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The week-long journey to Gulfport as part of a Penn State campus partnership is officially termed a community service project, but for the Harrisburg campus students involved, it’s not all about hard work – it’s about lots of smiles.

The initiative for a Penn State partnership to improve the quality of life in Gulfport was first developed by Penn State Erie which envisioned a 90-person camp uniting University students from around the Commonwealth to aid the victims of Katrina. Last March, the idea became a reality with six Penn State Harrisburg students joining in the clean-up and rebuilding effort. This year, 80 Penn State student volunteers from the Erie, Harrisburg, Shenango, DuBois, and Lehigh Valley campuses will again spend the week at the mission field operated by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Penn State Harrisburg sophomore human development and family studies major Kayma Freeman from Philadelphia who is making her second spring break excursion to Gulfport, says, "I want to go to Mississippi because helping others is what I want to do with my life. During media coverage of the hurricane, I really felt for the children and I wondered what I could do. I heard about this trip and jumped at the opportunity. I want to help as many families as possible and make the place that was once home feel like home again. I just want to put smiles back on these people’s faces."

Jade Johnson, a junior communications major also from Philadelphia, adds, "I want to sculpt a smile on the saddest face that has experienced trials and tribulations. I am looking to take a piece of Mississippi back with me to wear on my heart, because my heart beats for the people."

Freshman accounting major Christopher Teats from Millersburg has served on mission trips to the south before and echoes his fellow workmates in stating, "There are people who have been through so much and being able to bring a smile to their face because of what you did for them is something words cannot express. That feeling is priceless and is much better than any material award one could receive. I expect to gain a reward very similar to my last mission trip – feeling inside that I have helped make a positive difference in a few people’s lives."

Penn State Harrisburg assistant director of Campus Life and Intercultural Affairs Donna Howard, one of three staffers who will accompany the 11 students, reflects on the trip by stating it "fits in with the college’s commitment to provide our students the opportunity to know what service is all about. We can get caught up in ‘me’ sometimes and efforts such as this give students an opportunity to look at the other side. This group of students really wants to help."

If the tasks tackled by the students last year in Gulfport are an indication, they will have a busy week of hard work. Howard adds, "We did a wide variety of things in 2008. We worked on a demolition project in a house, ripping out dry wall and wiring, did a lot of painting, and even put a new roof on a house."

Kelsie White, a junior communications major originally from Tacoma, Wash., has a different focus when pondering the journey. "I really wanted to take the trip because I feel that it is important as a society to help those less fortunate. With a father in the U.S. Army, I’ve had many opportunities in the past to help people and this is a trip I’ve been wanting to take, but did not have the opportunity until this year." And Allyson Kilheffer, a sophomore electrical engineering major from Effort in Northeastern Pennsylvania just enjoys volunteering. She says, "I volunteer a lot – the Middletown Fire Department, the fire company at home, and the USO in Delaware, so I guess this fits. I just did it because I like enjoy volunteering and I hope to just help out."

Vaughn Anthony Stanley, a junior psychology major from Washington, D.C., says "I have always been the type of person to want to help others whenever possible, so when I was informed about this opportunity I was ecstatic. Not only was the timing right, since I was not going to be in school or working, but I have also wanted to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. While down there I expect to make a difference in people’s lives. I expect to help and encourage people that need a little encouragement. Most of all I want to be able to lay down at night knowing I just made someone's day a little bit better."

The other members of the Penn State Harrisburg contingent are: Jamela Simon, a public policy major from Washington, D.C.; Mary Banson, a sociology major from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Peter Roquemore, a political science major from Camp Hill; Marcellus Taylor, Philadelphia; and Lindsay Shook, a finance major from Rimbersburg.

 

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Last Updated May 06, 2010