Inner-city San Antonio is spring break destination for some university students

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Some University of North Texas students will spend their spring break next week in Padre Island, Florida, Mexico or other popular spots to savor beer and soak up the sun.

Jini Scoville, however, will travel to San Antonio, where she will do arts and crafts with children who are ill, abused and neglected. She will spend her nights not in a hotel, but in a church youth center, sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag, and eating food cooked in the church kitchen instead of going out to dinner every evening.

Scoville, a junior music education major from Los Angeles, is one of 25 UNT students participating in the university's first Alternative Spring Break, which provides students with a chance to work on a community service project during the break. Several other Texas colleges and universities, including Texas A&M University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University, also offer Alternative Spring Break programs.

"It's easy to get caught up in partying over spring break when you're in college," Scoville said. "I wanted to do something more meaningful -- something I could look back on with pride."

Alternative Spring Break, or ASB, is sponsored by the UNT Volunteer Center. Mary Pastorius, director of student life and involvement for the UNT Dean of Students Department, said the center plans to expand the sites for ASB in 2007 so students can choose from three to 10 locations.

"San Antonio is an area that was in need, and it was a good fit for us. We would like to always return there, but another potential site is in Florida where Habitat for Humanity houses are being built," Pastorius said.

The Volunteer Center received 45 applications, including essays, from students wishing to participate in Alternative Spring Break. The 25 students were chosen for their leadership skills and past volunteer work.

"We're giving students an opportunity to truly be part of addressing social concerns in communities," Pastorius said. "Some of the upperclassmen who were chosen said in their essays,

‘I've done Padre Island. I want to do something different over spring break.'"

Accompanied by two full-time staff members and several part-time graduate student employees, the 25 UNT students will leave Denton at 8 a.m. March 13 and arrive in San Antonio by 4 p.m. They will spend much of the next three days volunteering at San Antonio Youth Centers, Inc., which provide programs and services for the social, academic and physical development of underprivileged children at five locations in the city. The UNT students are planning activities for the children, including arts and crafts, games and team building.

On the morning of March 14, some of the UNT students will bring get-well cards to patients at Methodist Children's Hospital and help them with arts and crafts. That afternoon, all of the students will repackage donated food at the San Antonio Food Bank.

The students will complete 30 to 35 hours of service before returning to Denton by 6 p.m. March 17.

Scoville said she decided to apply for ASB partially for the chance to work with children. She has previously volunteered at an after-school program.

"I'm really looking forward to the visit to the children's hospital," she said. "I think it may be a little emotional for me, but it will be a nice feeling to visit them."

Massiel Romero from Lewisville said she is going on ASB "to spend time with others and help others instead of myself."

"I was looking for a learning experience," said Romero, a sophomore hospitality management major who volunteers with The Arc of Denton County, a United Way agency that serves people with disabilities and their families. She also assisted Hurricane Rita evacuees who were housed on the UNT campus in September.

Romero said she is looking forward to working with the children at the youth centers, "but I also want to do the general miscellaneous tasks at the youth centers that have not been done due to lack of help."

"That is a shame, and I would love to change that," she said.

The ASB students are each paying $100 to participate, and have held fundraisers to raise money for groceries and other expenses. While they are in San Antonio, the students will keep a reflection journal, then share what they wrote in a post-ASB assessment meeting.

Pastorius said she hopes that in the future, UNT's Volunteer Center and the Texas Woman's University Center for Student Development, which also sponsors an ASB trip, will offer joint opportunities for ASB so more students can participate.

"My overall goal is that at least 50 percent of UNT student participate in an ASB program at least one year that they are here," she said.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108