A Spring Break from the usual

BY ASHLEY HAUGO | MARCH 23, 2009 7:30 AM

Switching from relaxing in the South Carolina sun to cleaning headstones in a national cemetery, UI senior Amy Rohlfing has made the leap to the alternative side.

“I had fun on [the trip to South Carolina], but it was time for something different,” the 21-year-old said.

Rohlfing was one of 42 UI students who ditched the typical spring-break vacation last week to volunteer across the country as a part of a Pay It Forward Tour sponsored by the UI chapter of Students Today Leaders Forever.

The eight-day, six-city service trip across the country was one of eight alternative spring breaks offered through the UI last week. From rebuilding flood-damaged homes in Cedar Rapids to working on community projects in Xicotepec, Mexico, the UI community joined the trend of spring-break volunteerism at both the local and international level.

On March 17, UI President Sally Mason and her husband, Ken Mason, joined UI students who helped the flood-ravaged parts of Cedar Rapids. After painting the walls of a damaged home, Mason said, she walked away from the job with much-improved brush skills and a satisfied feeling.
“We all felt good we were able to offer something to those who suffered from the floods last summer,” she said. “It was a great way to spend spring break.”

Other alternative spring break participants shared the sentiment.

“It’s more fulfilling at the end of the day,” said UI senior Matt Menietti, who has participated in the Pay It Forward Tour for the past two years. He believes his experiences surpass the typical spring break, he said.

Similarly, UI junior Anne Pitkin said she thinks she made a good investment by choosing to spend her break in New Orleans with 247, Parkview Church’s outreach group.

“Giving back … is so rewarding and something I wouldn’t change,” she said.

While there, the group of 37 logged full-time hours tearing down one home and doing lawn work on another.

But these volunteer spring breaks aren’t all work and no play. Pitkin and her fellow volunteers rewarded themselves on their trip’s last day with sightseeing and sampling Southern cuisine. For the Pay It Forward group, a visit to the beach and St. Patrick’s day on New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street revived their work-weary bodies.

Whether it was picking up trash in Houston, tearing down a house in New Orleans, or repainting walls in Cedar Rapids, the UI community left its mark last week.

“To drop in on the lives of strangers and help them for no reason at all — that’s special for college students,” Menietti said.

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