UI officials want to continue alternative spring-break program after success in Memphis


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After a whole lot of sweat, and just as much heart, 16 students inspired University of Iowa officials to continue and expand their new alternative spring-break service project.

The Center for Student Involvement and Leadership hosted its first alternative spring-break program this year. Sixteen students traveled to Memphis, Tenn., on March 16 to participate in service projects focused on public health with three different organizations: Grow Memphis, Hope House, and Friends for Life. The group returned to Iowa City on March 21.

“There are other trips that happen on campus, but this is the first time we have done it here,” said Paul Mintner, coordinator of leadership programs for the center. “We worked with a variety of issues that related to public health, so it wasn’t just with folks who had HIV, but we also did urban gardening in Memphis.”

He said UI officials hope to start planning for the next alternative spring-break project by the end of May.

They would like to have two trips with different groups to new locations nationally or locally.

Planning for the Memphis trip started in October 2012 for a program that 16 students could participate in. Applications opened Dec. 5, 2012, and more than 90 applied.

The students paid $150 for the trip, which included lodging, food, and some entrance fees for cultural events.

Students were inspired by the trip to continue volunteering and start their own organizations to work on local problems here.

UI students Lauren Stendahl and Elizabeth Wise, who went on the trip, are now brainstorming a new organization to help the homeless in Iowa City.

“There is a homeless population in Iowa City, and the shoebox organization would require us putting together necessities in a shoebox and giving them out to the homeless,” Wise said.

Students worked with Grow Memphis for urban gardening. Their responsibilities included preparing a garden for trees and placing fertilizer on the soil.

The next two days, students focused on working with organizations that helped people affected and infected by HIV.

According to report released in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV.

Students helped with yard work and also played with children at the Hope House, a daycare for children who are affected by HIV and AIDS.

“I spent the day playing with the kids in their daycare, which involved everything from an intense game of basketball on a 3-foot hoop to reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ ” UI junior Chance Sullivan said.

Students also volunteered at Friends for Life, the largest agency that serves AIDS and HIV in the Mid-South by providing education, housing, food, transportation, and healthy life-skills training.

Students helped by filing papers, doing yard work, creating safe-sex kits, and working in the food pantry and creating bags to pass out to clients.

“They told us that the work that we did in six hours was worth three months of work for them,” Mintner said. “Every moment that we were doing things, like yard work or filing, doesn’t necessarily seem like it connects to AIDS and HIV, but for every moment that we were doing that, it was a moment that they could be spending time with their clients.”

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