Nicole St. Onge ’17 (English/Communications) is no stranger to giving back. “Volunteering has been a huge part of my life ever since I was really young,” she says. “It’s truly a passion of mine.” So when she heard about the Alternative Spring Break program at SUNY New Paltz, she immediately applied.
Open to undergraduate students in good academic standing, the college’s Alternative Spring Break program is designed to give students a chance to give back to the community. According to Erica Wagner, service learning coordinator at SUNY New Paltz, students are selected through a competitive application process that includes submitting essay questions, a resume, transcripts and an interview.
This year, St. Onge and 13 other SUNY New Paltz students were selected to take part in the program. The group spent spring break volunteering at Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption, The Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie, Scenic Hudson and Habitat for Humanity in Newburgh. In addition, they held a food drive for People’s Place in Kingston and made therapy dolls for the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital. In total, the group completed 700 hours of leadership and volunteer activities.
“Our students’ contributions to these organizations make a lasting impact by helping others meet their needs and inspiring others to give back,” said Wagner. “Participants also strengthen their communication, teamwork and leadership skills.”
Sarah Hershey’15, who is majoring in communications disorders, said Alternative Spring Break gave her an opportunity to make a difference in the community where she lives.
“I loved feeling like I was doing something good for the people of the Hudson Valley,” she said.
Secondary education major Maria Gillin ’16 echoed Hershey’s sentiment.
“It means a lot to be able to help out the community and see the impact you’re having on the people you help,” she said. “I think the most powerful part of this experience is looking around when you first get to a volunteer site and taking it in, and then doing the same just before you leave–you see the difference a couple hours can make.”
Gillin also said the experience has made her grateful for the things she does have.
“When you look at how little some people have compared to you, I think it makes you want to do as much as possible to help them out in whatever way you can,” she said. “I’ve taken away many things from this experience, including the feeling that I’ve made a difference and the desire to give back more.”