While many of their peers enjoyed Spring Break with vacations and other fun distractions, student groups from two organizations at the University of North Georgia (UNG) used their time off to work on volunteer projects.
"Opportunities like this are related to a cornerstone of UNG's mission — community engagement," said Dr. Mary Carney, director for UNG's Center for Teaching, Learning and Leadership. "During these trips and service-learning opportunities, our students can learn about the economic realities of housing markets, the management of a worksite, the subtleties of interpersonal communication on the job, and our shared humanity in a diverse world."
One student group traveled to Vero Beach, Fla., where they assisted Habitat for Humanity in building a house. For more than five years, a UNG Habitat for Humanity group has traveled to assist in a home-building project during Spring Break.
"Habitat for Humanity is one of the most active clubs on the Oconee Campus," said Greg Brannon, president of Habitat for Humanity's UNG-Oconee Campus chapter. "Once the money has been raised for a trip, students select where to go; on the inaugural trip, the club went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It's great to see students leave here with a purpose and come back so energized after they have helped others."
Brannon said he wanted to participate this year because of hearing many good things about last year's trip, including the joy students saw in the people and families they were helping.
"I decided that for my Spring Break this year, I would like to make a life-changing impact," Brannon said. "We are already planning more trips for May. Our sponsor for the Vero Beach trip, Indian River Habitat for Humanity, said that we did such a great job they may offer us a lower charge if we can come back, but we aren't sure yet where our next destination will be."
The Baptist College Ministry (BCM) at the Dahlonega Campus sent four groups of UNG students out during Spring Break to help others; this is an annual initiative for the organization, and the groups travel to different places each year. This year, the BCM groups traveled to New Jersey, New York, N.Y., Portland, Ore., Houston, Texas, and an Atlanta neighborhood called Pittsburgh, where they assisted with meal and clothing donations and ministered to the homeless.
"Going into this trip, I had to change my mindset a bit to remind myself that it was going to be a mission trip, because in our own home state you don't think you can reach out in the same way that you could in an underdeveloped country," said Brian Reddick, a student who went on the Pittsburgh trip. "But when we got to Pittsburgh and saw so much poverty there, my first reaction was that this does feel like a different country. I didn't realize there could be mission fields in our backyard."
The group also traveled to Toccoa, Ga., to help with landscaping projects.
The New York/New Jersey team consisted of 16 students who focused on Hurricane Sandy disaster relief by helping residents clean out and rebuild their homes. The Portland team of five students worked with a campus organization at Portland State University and participated in a homeless outreach program called Nightstrike. The Houston team of six students worked with mission centers to provide homeless and children's ministry.
"Each trip had a different theme, but they all had the same purpose — to use our Spring Break in many different communities to serve others," said Sarah Hafner, president of BCM's UNG chapter in Dahlonega. "This year we were focused on helping the homeless, and we were excited to have opportunities to give to those who are less fortunate."
UNG is one of only two public universities in Georgia that has earned the Community Engagement Classification from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, marking its commitment to the north Georgia region and its global partners.