Students volunteer for "Alternative Spring Break"

all photos courtesy of Monica Tambay

For many students, Spring Break is a time for relaxation and a much-needed recess from the migraines of midterms. For a small group of ten however, it’s a time to make a difference and give back to the community. Volunteer VISTA coordinators Monica Tambay (’07) and James Birmingham organized this year’s Alternative Spring Break, in which New College students traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to see the sights, work with a plethora of volunteer organizations and even rally outside of Georgia’s capital building in political protest.

A mere $70 covered the whole trip with the exception of a few meals. Students explored the city and sites as they worked with various non-profit organizations. Compared to previous alternative breaks, Tambay noted that a recent success in this spring’s trip was the diversity of programs students worked with.

“It was different in that we worked with several organizations,” Tambay explained. “In Fall we worked with one organization called Hope Agency and they basically helped [Hurricane] Katrina victims revitalize their neighborhoods and rebuild. But here [in Atlanta] we worked with a different organization every day.”

From Project Open Hand — a massive soup kitchen which students helped package and deliver foods — to the Global Soap Project — which sends soap and hygiene products to impoverished countries — New College students tackled a variety of current and widespread social problems. The Alt. Break kids even helped clean up Piedmont Park, one of the central parks of Atlanta.

“We  did Books for Africa,” said first-year attendee Dan Monhollon. “They take tons and tons of donated books, mostly from schools and package them and send them out to schools in Africa.”

“It was across the board,” said a satisfied Tambay. “That was the goal — to kind of give a little taste of different things Atlanta had to offer in terms of non-profits [organizations].

When asked why she chose Atlanta of all places, Tambay explained it was a no-brainer: “First of all nobody had ever done it … and there’s just so much to give. People have gone to Miami and that’s great and that’s urban, but Atlanta has so much to offer in terms of a myriad of social issues that students would want to tap into. Working with urban poverty is something people are very interested in and it’s something that we are constantly confronted with in our social sciences classes.”

On Mar. 23 the small New College group went to Georgia’s capital building in downtown Atlanta to protest the Arizona Copycat law also known as the Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. The bill, which news-blog website tartly calls the “show me your papers” bill, raised issues of discrimination, racial profiling and economic turmoil in many activists. Students participated in the protest from 11:00 to 2:00 and helped garner signatures of support against the proposed law.

When asked if the trip was truly worth it, Monhollon expressed a definitive yes.

“It was great,” Monhollon said. “We met a lot of Alums who were really cool … It was a really great group; we all had a lot of fun together.”

Monhollon explained why he chose to spend his vacation on Alternative Spring Break: “I like doing community service projects. It seemed like it would be a cheap and interesting way to see Atlanta and to do something meaningful over break.”

Students stayed with Atlantan alums’ and activists’ houses which reduced the price of the trip greatly. Among some of the planned activities, the group visited the King Center and explored Atlanta’s museum dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. In a rare example of living history, students got to see civil rights activist and Martin Luther King contemporary, John Lewis, in front of the capital building during the protest.

“On one of the videos that they had [at the museum] John Lewis was talking about his experiences and they showed him when he was young, leading crowds with MLK,” said Tambay. “Two days later we saw him in the flesh”

Some of the other activities included a hike in Stone Mountain Park, dinner at the Neo-American Shakespeare Tavern, a potluck with alums and even a farewell block party. The success of the trip has only spurred Tambay to get more students interested and involved in volunteer programs.

“We’re hoping to go to Puerto Rico next fall!” Tambay said.

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