Students, faculty, staff members are serving in four domestic, three international communities.
By James Irwin
One hundred and seventy four university students, faculty and staff arrived in disadvantaged U.S. and Latin American communities Saturday, where they will provide nearly 7,000 hours of community service as part of the George Washington University’s weeklong Alternative Winter Break program.
Seven trips, organized by the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, will tackle issues of sustainability, community health, housing, poverty, education and urban restoration in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indian River County (Florida), Los Angeles, New Orleans, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. The group sizes range from 14 to 58 volunteers.
Six of the seven sites are return visits for GW, with university volunteers working alongside local partner organizations in each community.
“Our students are looking for a very rich experience and are looking to be exposed to social and economic problems and innovative solutions to those problems,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “They are looking for the personal connection within communities.”
The Alternative Winter Break trips, manned by 138 students, 22 student leaders and 14 faculty/staff learning partners, run through Jan. 11 with volunteers returning to campus this weekend in time for the start of the spring semester. Similar trips are held in March during the university’s annual spring break. Volunteers who traveled on trips through GW Alternative Breaks last winter and spring accumulated 14,800 hours of service in 17 communities, part of the university’s record-breaking 403,146 service hours amassed during the 2013-14 academic year.
“When they return, our students mostly talk about the relationships built with the organizations and how they learned more about the nature of the culture, the nature of the poverty in the community and the resiliency and creativity of the people they work with,” Ms. Cohen said.
A glance at the winter 2015 trips:
Los Santos, Costa Rica
Issue area: sustainability, community health
In partnership with Green Communities Costa Rica, GW volunteers will help install eco-stoves—heating devices built from recyclable materials that produce biochar for organic fertilizer—and work with community youth to explore the rainforest.
Indian River County, Florida
Issue area: poverty, affordable housing
GW volunteers, working alongside Habitat for Humanity, will work to build new and repair existing homes in the local community. Florida has one of the highest levels of income inequality and one of the worst supplemental poverty rates in the country.
San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala
Issue area: education and construction
Eighteen members of the university community will volunteer with Long Way Home, a local nonprofit organization, to continue work building a school in this Mayan village.
Issue area: at-risk youth
As one of several return locations, GW volunteers will work with several location organizations, including The Garageboard Shop and HomeBoy Industries, on at-risk youth issues of violence, immigration and gang intervention.
Issue area: urban restoration
For a ninth straight year, the university will send a large contingent of volunteers—58—to New Orleans to assist with construction projects in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Partner organizations include Rebuilding Together New Orleans, which provides house repairs and sustainable upgrades for low-income homeowners, and the Knowledge Is Power Program.
El Manzano Uno, Nicaragua
Issue area: community development
This small, underserved coastal community in northern Nicaragua will host 20 GW volunteers, who will work alongside Waves of Hope, a local nonprofit organization, to construct the village’s first high school and teach English to local youth.
Las Marias, Puerto Rico
Issue area: sustainability
A group of 26 GW volunteers will work with Plenitud Eco-Educational Initiatives to learn about organic farming, bio-construction, permaculture and other sustainable farming practices.