An Alternative Spring Break

March 14, 2007

Reported by: Britney Glaser

There are no bikinis hanging on the clotheslines at the Southwest Louisiana Volunteer Center in Moss Bluff...and the dorm rooms don't quite have a beach front view.  But, that does not matter to the more than 300 volunteers that are choosing to spend their Spring Break in Southwest Louisiana.  Shaunna Ruben of New Jersey says, "Who would want to go to Miami when you can come down to Louisiana and do projects like this?"

Forget soaking up the sun on a sandy beach for these Spring Breakers.  "We're actually doing some removal and reconstruction of Camp Wi-Ta-Wentin," says Charlie Birchmeier, a volunteer from Michigan.

These volunteers are soaking in the Louisiana humidity and experiencing nature's destruction first-hand.  Emma O'Brien is a volunteer with Americorps out of Sacramento, California.  She says, "People really wanted to come down and see for themselves and see the difference they can make."

The program that these volunteers are taking part in is called "Alternative Spring Break" and it is headed up by United Way support.  Stephen McMahon, Project Manager with Alternative Spring Break, says, "Across the Gulf Coast, there are needs and we're engaging young people not only locally, but from around the country."

In 2006, United Way of America in a partnership with thinkMTV created "Storm Corps," which brough close to 100 volunteers to the Gulf Coast for recovery efforts.  Chauncie Burton of New York City was one of those participants.  After Burton saw the difference she could make for the hurricane-affected Gulf Coast residents, she joined the Alternative Spring Break program for a second year.  "Even though it happened a while ago," says Burton, "there's still the repercussions of it and people are still struggling and still trying to get by.  They still need our help and support and appreciation from wherever we are."

These Spring Breakers are working on a total of 15 sites ranging from construction in Cameron Parish to debris removal in Moss Bluff.  Kathy Williams with United Way SWLA says, "Oh, it's been great. They are so energetic and just ready to do anything.  They're even coming in with projects and they have their own ideas of things to do."

At Camp Wi-Ta-Wentin in Calcasieu Parish, the damage left by Rita is still visible.  Wayne Bebe with Campfire USA says the storm's damages have been tough to deal with, but this group of volunteers is making a huge impact on the future of the grounds.  "They're so amazingly committed," says Bebe, "It's just unbelievable. So, it will be like 1,600 manhours that these guys have donated, in lieu of going somewhere like Miami Beach or Cancun."

Many of the volunteers have never been to Louisiana before, and they say seeing the devastation from the storm first-hand has truly been an eye-opening experience.

The group of Spring Breakers here this week will head out on Friday...but then a new group will head in for the following week to continue working on the project sites!