Student Feature

My Unforgettable Spring Break

By Caroline Popp

This past spring break, I participated in a program called United Way- Alternative Spring Break. During my week, I volunteered with other college students from all around the United States to do community service both at the Boys and Girls Club in Newark, NJ and at the Jersey Shore near Ortley Beach, NJ. I must say, it was truly an unforgettable and humbling experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Throughout the week, my fellow volunteers and I spent our afternoons working with children at the Newark Boys and Girls Club. The Boys and Girls Club is a nationwide after school program for children from ages 6-18. It is a safe and supervised environment where children can play games, do their homework, participate in sports and be engaged in interactive, educational activities. It also provides a positive and nurturing environment for many children at the Club who are at-risk youth and from ALICE, a United Way acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed, populations.

It was really fun and rewarding to work everyday with such sweet and lovable kids at the Boys and Girls Club. Everyday had standout moments that made me feel so happy to be at the Club volunteering. Whether these moments were as simple as helping a third-grader master multiplication problems, writing a story with the kids in which all the kids could be “superheroes”, hosting a contest to see which students could put together “breakfast scrambler” cereal-box puzzles fastest or creating personalized origami birds and frogs for each kid to enjoy, each and every moment never failed to put a smile on my face. My fellow volunteers and I were so proud to be able to be apart of creating a positive environment for these children even if it were only for a few days. The Boys and Girls Club in Newark is an incredibly inspiring place.

 

During the later part of the week, the other volunteers and I traveled down to South Jersey to work on a Hurricane Sandy relief project in which we moved debris in an affected area in Toms River. As we drove through the area, I could not believe my eyes. So many towns such as Ortley Beach, Mantoloking, Brick and Point Pleasant were even in March, months after Hurricane Sandy, still severely devastated. It brought tears to my eyes to see houses split in half and/or submerged in water, random garages/doors thrown across roads, boarded up and abandoned small businesses, a significantly shorter shoreline, a ripped-apart boardwalk and debris everywhere. I could not believe this scene was reality! It was heartbreaking to see the place where I spent so many summer vacations as a child completely destroyed. However, I know the sorrow must be even more unbearable for year-long residents in these shore-towns that lost everything. It will most likely take close to a decade to rebuild the damaged areas affected by the hurricane. However, I was glad that I could help, even if it was in a small way. Every little bit of help goes a long way and as they say, New Jersey is “Jersey Strong”. In time, with determination, we will succeed in restoring the store.

My Alternative Spring Break was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I cannot wait to participate again in the program next year! The experience made me very grateful for all that I have in my life that many others do not. During a semester, we may sometimes get stressed because of homework or upset if we earn a bad grade, but ultimately, those types of things are not super important. We are so fortunate and should rejoice in the fact that we have things such as loving relationships with family and friends, a safe environment, health, food, clothing and shelter. Many others are not so fortunate. So, be glad, and remember, it’s really the simple things that mean the most in life.