While many college students plan to hit the beach or the slopes for their weeklong spring break, 12 young adults from Grand Valley State University, Mich., traveled to the coast to trade relaxing in the sunshine for painting, landscaping and cleaning for Family Services of Southeast Texas. The students were part of the university’s Alternative Spring Break program, which encourages students and faculty to get involved in quality service opportunities, gaining education about social issues and exposure to diverse cultures and communities.
“This is more satisfying and has more substance than, say, a week in South Beach, Miami,” said Wisdom Wyant, a 21-year-old junior volunteer from Traverse City, Mich. “This is something I want to do every spring break. I grow as a person and learn more about myself. I become more educated on the problems in the world that need our help.”
Wyant, along with nine women and two men, arrived in Southeast Texas on Sunday, March 3. They painted rooms, moved furniture and cleaned at Family Services Women and Children’s Shelter. They also did landscaping work and helped with administrative tasks at the Family Services Counseling Center.
“It’s a wonderful gesture that they want to help nonprofit agencies because there are a lot of things that we couldn’t get accomplished without them,” said Janet Walker, executive director of Family Services of Southeast Texas. “For example, we had a fence that needed to be painted, and we really don’t have the staff or manpower to do tasks like that. We would have had to pay for it. So we were able to use our donations for client services because the students donated their time.”
The students believe that citizens should hold community as a priority in their lives by giving back to and participating in different communities across the globe.
“I got what I expected and so much more,” said David Inda, a 19-year-old freshman volunteer from Plainfield, Ill. “We were able to help the people out at Family Services and also became so close as a group.”
The students were able to connect with some of the residents at the shelter by playing games with the children and listening to their stories before returning to Grand Rapids, Mich., on March 8, Inda said.
“What touched me the most was seeing the kids here with their moms,” he said. “There is a 13-year-old boy who is here (at the shelter) because of unfortunate things that happened to him in the past, and he has really been strong through it all and pulled through. He’s handling it a lot better than I would. I very much admire that.”
Inda said that he plans to volunteer with the program again and feels blessed by the experience.
“I think this was an amazing opportunity that was incredibly fulfilling,” he said. “I know I am going back to Grand Valley with a completely different perspective on so many different things.”
“Every year Family Services strengthens thousands of families in Southeast Texas,” Walker said. “We could not accomplish all that we do without the support of others like these volunteers.”