For many Novocollegians, with the arrival of spring break comes a much-needed opportunity to blow off steam after the stress of midterms and a hectic half-semester. Plenty do so by vacationing or simply relaxing at home, but a particular group of students are taking a more active, community-oriented approach and taking part in a New College tradition five years in the running.
Over the course of the break week, these students will participate in a variety of volunteer community service projects in Atlanta as part of the alternative spring break sponsored by the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Though the primary focus of the trip will involve activities related to social issues and improving the community, students will also have an opportunity to explore the city’s sights and attractions.
According to VISTA Volunteer Coordinator Monica Tambay, this year’s trip will chiefly address the issues of urban poverty and homelessness. Students will work at soup kitchens, encourage AIDS awareness, promote public education and provide other means of help to the homeless in collaboration with Project Open Hand, a service initiative that, according to its website, has been dedicated to “providing ‘meals with love’ to neighbors in need” since 1985. In addition to assisting the people of Atlanta, the volunteers will also work to better the city itself, getting involved in projects such as a cleanup at Piedmont Park.
VISTA has been promoting alternative spring (and fall) breaks for New College students for approximately five years and has typically sent groups to urban centers in particular need of social welfare. In 2008, for instance, a group traveled to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This year marks VISTA and New College’s first outing to the Atlanta area, which hosts a fairly sizable community of New College alumni. The group plans to tap into this extended community, allowing student volunteers to work side-by-side with the alums and receive nightly accommodation, the latter of which has cut down costs for the trip considerably. When the volunteers aren’t busy with the various planned service initiatives, they plan to indulge in Atlanta’s many cultural offerings, ranging from performances of Shakespeare plays to viewings at art galleries.
With the group at maximum capacity with ten students and spring break barely half a week away, the roster for the alternative spring break is set in stone. Still, Tambay encourages any students interested in social activism to get involved with VISTA, as they have several more projects planned for the near future. Closest on the horizon are a number of service learning tutorials focusing on sociological and anthropological issues as well as volunteering, such as a collaborative effort with Ringling College of Art and Design to raise money for the American Cancer Society in April.
Beyond that, VISTA is open to community-improvement ideas from students interested in working to implement them, and can help potential activists find volunteer opportunities. Tambay invites students interested in social issues, not to mention valuable experience in one’s community (as well as for grad schools and résumés) to contact her or fellow VISTA Volunteer Coordinator James Birmingham, or to simply send an e-mail to email@example.com.