Written by Michael Rouleau
Eastern students Lisa Forcellina (left) and Kim DePaolis (right) with Eastern's AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Max Goto (center) working in raised garden beds at the Generous Gardens Project in Greenville, SC, for their week-long spring break in March.
Willimantic, Conn. - This past spring recess, Eastern Connecticut State University students participated in two "alternative break" trips. Both trips lasted a week in March; one group volunteered with the Generous Gardens Project in Greenville, SC, and the other volunteered in the Natchaug State Forest in Eastford, CT.
Seven students worked with the Generous Gardens Project, a nonprofit organization that grows and distributes fresh produce to anti-hunger efforts in South Carolina. "Generous Gardens taught us so much about gardening, how to be 'green' and the importance of giving back," said Cassandra Marion, a senior majoring in visual arts. "The amount of work we were able to achieve made coming back every night exhausted totally worth it."
The group learned about sustainability and urban gardening while planting seeds, harvesting vegetables, composting, working on raised garden beds and other agricultural tasks.
"Generous Gardens helped to reignite my passion for helping people by expanding my repertoire of skills and offering me a novel vehicle for service," said Kimberly DePaolis, a junior double majoring in early childhood education and psychology. "Being completely submerged in a self-sustaining farm for the purpose of helping those in need of food was incredible."
"On Wednesday we had the day off and went for a hike on Paris Mountain, and later got to explore the town," said Lily Egan, a junior majoring in communication. "I wouldn't have traded our trip for anything. I needed an escape from regular life in Connecticut. The work was hard but also relaxing; a real stress reliever."
Another group of seven students took day trips from Eastern to Natchaug State Forest throughout the week, where they built bridges and did trail work with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. "The labor was tough, but not as difficult as I was expecting. I especially liked working with the power tools when we were building the bridge," said Anastasia Matos, a sophomore majoring in business administration. "I was out of my element, but everyone was so kind and helpful; I felt a real connection with everyone."
The Natchaug State Forest group enjoyed a hike through the forest and an education on forestry and conservation. "This trip was fun and rewarding, and, like all alternative break trips, a great way to learn new things, meet people and lend a helping hand," said Kurt Stefanscyk, a junior majoring in environmental earth science. "It feels good to give back."
The purpose of "alternative breaks" is to provide the opportunity for students to serve outside of their own communities in a drug-and-alcohol free environment. For information about Eastern's upcoming alternative break trips, contact the Center for Community Engagement.