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Students Spread out for Service

Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A number of HWS students have opted to spend their spring break participating in one of several regional and out-of-state Alternative Spring Break (ASB) options. By immersing themselves in a community and providing service, students experience firsthand a range of critical issues of today, including sustainability, education and migrant labor.

"The HWS Alternative Spring Break trips provide an environment through which students can make connections to people within the areas they are serving, as well as with each other," explains Jeremy Wattles of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL), which facilitates the trips. "The service experiences enable students to learn more about themselves and the communities where they are stationed."

The Colleges' 2014 programs include: volunteering at the Mariam Boyd Elementary School in Warrenton, N.C.; sustainable farming in Ithaca, N.Y.; volunteering with the Rural & Migrant Ministry in Lyons, N.Y.; and conducting service work at Pocahontas State Park in Virginia.

"I would say that I have learned a lot about the life and labor of a farmer that I never knew or was exposed to," says Cecelia Carsky-Bush '16. "I have gained an added appreciation for eating locally and have enhanced my understanding of what a community really is made of. I have met wonderful people and enjoyed wonderful food. Having a great time and tiring myself out!"

Carsky-Bush and eight fellow students are spending the week at Three Swallows Farm with Sarah Meyer, community outreach coordinator for the Finger Lakes Institute at HWS, for what they refer to as "Wake the Farm." The farm is part of the Full Plate Farm Collective which raises vegetables for a community sustainable agriculture program. Its farm manager, Ann Piombino, directs the Youth Farm Project, which creates job experience for youth within the local food system. Wake the Farm ASB volunteers are planting seeds, mulching garlic, working with compost, and preparing the fields for spring, among other responsibilities.

Meyer explains the group is sourcing the majority of their food for the week locally and sustainably by supporting local farm stands, food manufacturers and farmers. They conducted seven cooking parties two weeks prior to the trip to supply their own yogurt, cheese, bread, granola, pasta, graham crackers and marshmallows. She has created a blog to document their food and farm adventures.

Aislinn Raftis '15 explains she chose the farm trip for ASB "Because I think food is such an important part of everybody's life. Good food is noticeably better for you, it can work better than medicines and is so simple." Through the process of preparing and sourcing their own food, Raftis found that it's "more difficult than it looks. We've become really adventurous in the kitchen because we need to do a lot of substituting ingredients but it's been so much fun. You can taste the difference though, and I have never felt so healthy before. It's nice to know who grew your food, to actually meet them and talk to them, because it connects you to this intricate system that is so often ignored."

Melissa Webster '13 is leading a group of students volunteering at Mariam Boyd Elementary School. Webster is currently in the MAT program, having earned her B.A. in international relations and history from William Smith. They are tutoring, assisting with reading and math, and helping with general duties in the classroom. The group is also preparing crafts and activities for children in an afterschool program run by the local church which is hosting the volunteers for the week.

"You are never too young or old to change and impact someone's life," says Scarlyn Gutierrez '16.

Students interested in immigration and food production issues are learning how the Rural & Migrant Ministry is advocating for social change on behalf of migrant farm workers in New York. There, they are meeting with workers from South and Central American countries and examining the power and privilege dynamics among large agribusinesses and rural workers.

Peter Fiannaca, an area coordinator with the Office of Residential Education, is leading the ASB trip in Pocahontas State Park, just outside of Richmond, Va. Among other tasks, they are rehabilitating a cabin, stripping and refinishing floors and other woodwork, painting, insulating and restoring the fireplace's brick face.

"I'm so happy with the group that ended up coming to Virginia: that they have all proven themselves to be hard workers, excellent ambassadors of The Colleges, and just thoughtful individuals in general," says Fiannaca who is maintaining a blog of the experience.

They are staying in what he refers to as "a beautiful 1930s dining hall" on site and preparing co-op style dinners, with nightly reflections held after meals.

"What we're doing here in Chesterfield, Va. is so much more than a community service project; it's the practical application of servant leadership as a lifestyle model," says Fiannaca.

After ASB concludes each year, CCESL offers evaluations to students as part of the overall reflection on their volunteer work.

In the top photo, Area Coordinator Peter Fiannaca gathers students volunteering at the Pocahontas State Park (PSP) in Virginia and park staff with whom they’ve been working for a group photo.

The second photo features students from Columbia, New York University, Vassar and Hobart and William Smith visit an apple farm during their week with Rural Migrant Ministry Program in Lyons, N.Y.

 


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