Fairbanks students flock to Florida for philanthropy

Lakeidra Chavis
March 27, 2012

The 2012 Alternative Spring Break team is a group of volunteers that went to Destin, Fla. to help with the shoreline restoration project. Here, the group is posing on the fossilized oysters they bagged during their day in Niceville, Fla. Tuesday, 13 Mar., 2012. Photo by Lakeidra Chavis.

Each year, the Alternative Spring Break program sends UAF students to a place in need to spend their spring break volunteering. Whether it was bagging oyster shells, picking up trash or reading to children, this year’s team worked hard during their time in Destin, Fla.

While in Florida, the team helped the Gulf Coast Shoreline Restoration Project. Our twelve member team – including team advisor Cara Hollingsworth and team leaders Kelley Ryan and Haley Hanson – spent the week of March 11 in Florida.

I chose to go on the trip because I wanted to help make a difference in a small community. When the Gulf oil spill happened my senior year of high school, I told my friends that I wanted to help clean up the spill. Although the team did not clean up the spill directly, we were still able help the community.

During our trip we stayed at Tampoochi Camp, a 4-H camp in Niceville, Fla.

After flying for a day and a half, we arrived at our campsite at 2 a.m. Our first project was park restoration. We removed debris from the park to allow healthy plants to grow. In the midst of removing enormous tree branches, weeds and trash from the park, we were advised to watch out for poisonous snakes, as well. At noon, team members Sam Derosier, Denali Chrichett and I took a small boat into the pond and removed all of the trash and dead turtle shells. Although severely jet-lagged, our team tried our best and we made a positive change to the condition of the park.

Our second day there, we worked with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance in Niceville, Fla. We bagged fossilized oyster shells. The Chocotawhatchee Basin Alliance places the bagged oyster shells in the bay or ocean in order to help with shoreline restoration. The fossilized oyster shells attract living oysters that cling onto the bags. The oysters will help filter out the water, including contaminated water flowing in from the Gulf Coast. After the park restoration our team went to a beach for some fun and relaxation. Chrichett and I watched a beach game native to Florida, spike-ball. We quickly realized that one can make the rules up as they go along. If it looks like no one knows what they’re doing, then the game has been quite successful.

The third day we went to Pensacola, Fla. We repeated the process, but with fresh oyster shells. These oyster shells are donated by three local restaurants in Pensacola. That night, every team member became a certified Red-Cross disaster relief volunteer by completing a Shelter Operations training session provided by our campsite. If there is ever a disaster in Fairbanks, we are qualified to help set up a shelter to provide relief.

Our fourth and final day of volunteering was at a HeadStart program. Hollingsworth, Hanson and Jared Conrad volunteered in an infant to 2-year-old classroom, while Sarah Walker and Tachit Chairat worked with 3- to 4-year-olds. Derosier and I volunteered in a 5- to 6-year-old classroom. We sang and dance with the children; played with blocks, arts and crafts; and resolved conflicts such as, “why you shouldn’t hit someone in the eye with a block.”

Teammates Kelley Ryan, Chrichett, Brooke Smart, Tori  Middelstadt and Katie Griffin volunteered at a different HeadStart program, where they helped take care of children from difficult households.

While volunteering at the HeadStart program I was privileged to meet 6-year-old Jeremiah. Jeremiah is mute. He cannot speak even when he tries. I said hello to him and he waved back. I asked him, “How are you doing today?” He again could only wave. I suppose Jeremiah’s condition affected me because of the doubt I was left with. I don’t know what his life will be like, how hard life will be because he cannot talk or even if  he will start talking. I realized that people aren’t like gulf coasts or parks. The problems that these places possess can be fixed with a little TLC and patience but sometimes, with people, even that does not guarantee the outcome you would like.

I am happy I went on the Alternative Spring Break trip because I learned a lot about the shoreline restoration project, made new friends and made a difference in the community.

I encourage anyone who likes to volunteer to sign up for the Alternative Spring Break program next year. It is a great opportunity to learn the social and environmental problems of a given community and apply the solutions to Fairbanks.

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