OU gives back to Galveston

By Kay Nguyen

College spring break can oftentimes be described as a weeklong party in a warm locale, characterized by copious amounts of liquor and fleeting romantic jaunts.

However, that’s not true for the members of Oakland University’s Alternative Break. While they will be in the warm climates of Galveston Island in Texas, their plans will not focus on alcohol or romance.

While the actual idea of Alternative Break was formed in the early 1980s as a response to “traditional” college spring breaks, this is the first year OU has had a formal student organization, although it has offered alternative break trips before.

Caitlin Merivirta, vice president of Alternative Break at OU, said that they have a much more unified vision of what Alternative Break is about this year.

“This year, we know what the break is about: Keeping everyone together,” Merivirta said. “We are making it about the students and the program.”

Sara Madjoff, president of ASB, attended the trip to South Carolina last year. She said she’s most looking forward to the group bonding as they work on their service project.

“Just everyone coming together to work for a good cause, help the community, change people’s lives, I think that’d be pretty great,” Madjoff said.

Advisor Tiffany Sims and 14 students will head down to Texas Sunday morning to volunteer their services to One Mission: Galveston, a faith-based organization created to help with Hurricane Ike relief.

This is the third year there has been an organized Alternative Break effort on campus.

In previous years, students have worked with Habitat for Humanity in South Carolina and have gone to New York City to do charitable work.

This year is also different as the trip is more student-based and run as opposed to the trips planned in previous years by the Center for Students Activities staff.

The trip was in its planning stages in August and most participants applied to go on it by October.

Sims said that while there is an application process, any students who complete applications and understand that the trip is for a service project and are willing to abstain from any alcohol or drug use are accepted for the trip.

“We capped the limit at 15 (students) this year and had a waiting list,” Sims said. “You could say that (Alternative Break) is growing.”

While the issue of disaster relief on the Gulf Coast is well-known to many Americans, Sims believes there has been much less support for Hurricane Ike victims in relation to Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans.

According to Sims, Hurricane Ike victims receive only a small fraction of federal money alloted to Gulf Coast relief and charitable giving is significantly lower for the area. One Mission: Galveston estimates that for every dollar in aid Hurricane Katrina victims received, Hurricane Ike victims received less than a dime.

“I didn’t even realize when I first found out that we would be going to Galvestion, TX to do hurricane relief that it was for Hurricane Ike,”  said Kaitlyn Fetterman, an Alternative Break trip participant.

As an Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Sims works on campus to promote service learning and a culture of community service on campus in addition to her work as an Alternative Break advisor.

“Americorps can be described like the Peace Corps, but it works on the domestic front,” Sims said.

Many trip-goers are heavily involved with service projects on campus and in surrounding communities.

Merivirta and Fetterman have been involved in community service since middle school and see Alternative Break as another way to reach out to a larger community.

Fetterman is the president of the Alpha Phi Omega national co-ed service fraternity. She and a fellow brother are going on the trip.

“From this trip I hope to gain a sense of awareness of the aftermath that natural disasters are still causing so many years later,” Fetterman said.

Merivirta is involved in honor societies like Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, and Golden Key. She finds time to log hours through the organizations and is also on OU’s VIP (Volunteer Initiative Partnership) e-mail list.

Sims organizes VIP, which entails promoting charitable opportunities to members and keeping track of students’ service hours.

While it’s too late to sign up for Alternative Break, Sims welcomes those still wanting to give back during break to volunteer at her monthly day of service at the Echo Grove Salvation Army camp Saturday. Students can sign up for the service project or any other volunteer opportunities by visiting the CSA.