Twenty-two students took their spring break in Birmingham, Ala., where they picked up hammers and nailed the service-learning component of their honors course.
Aptly called the Academic Alternative Spring Break: Classrooms Without Borders, the course asked students to look at a number of social issues. Gail Faris, assistant director of the Women’s Center, led the class with help from Michelle Caracia from the English Department, Deborah Gardner from the Honors Center, and Deni Lemire, who completed her studies last December.
Class members looked at the broad issue of poverty and its root causes: lack of suitable housing, unemployment, and hunger. Then they packed their bags and traveled to Birmingham to become part of the Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge program.
Faris chose Birmingham, an area in chronic need of assistance with a rich civil rights history. Students spent an afternoon visiting the park where police once attacked protestors with dogs and fire hoses; the church that was bombed in 1963, killing four girls; and the Civil Rights Institute, where they were accompanied by Bernard LaFayette Jr., former director of URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.
The students slept in a local church basement equipped with bunk beds and made their own meals. They worked on new houses and repaired old ones, often working alongside families that were part of what Habitat terms ‘sweat equity.’ The students learned more than carpentry.
“Who knew we could have so much fun roofing?” Ryan Kilpatrick of Bradford, R.I., wrote on the class blog. “I feel good about what we were able to do for Devarez and his family. I enjoyed being able to talk to him about his hopes and dreams … Habitat is providing more than a house … it’s providing a sense of security, a safe haven, a place of rest, a place to grow, and all the other things that a home is supposed to be. To be a part of that is really special.
“If I’ve taken anything away from this trip…it is inspiration to use my two hands to benefit this world the best way I can. There are millions of people in this world with needs. Most of them will never have those needs met because there aren’t enough servants or leaders. I want to be a servant. Granted, it shouldn’t take a one-week trip to Alabama to open my eyes to the social injustices of the world, but maybe that was just what I needed. I’m young, healthy, and somewhat intelligent. I have the tools necessary to make a difference. There is plenty of time for fun. Now is the time for action.”
In addition to Kilpatrick, other URI students on the trip were: Matthew Adams, Jessica Adefusika, Tolulope Adewusi, Kristina Camarena, Lindsay Cox, Kristen D’Entremont, Jessie Dyer, Alyssa Frezza, Meg Frost, Elise Glidden, Jami Halpern, Evan Hunt, Sarah Kane, Adam Karweil, Christopher Lombardozzi, Jamie Morrone, Jennifer Paquette, Rebecca Sawyer, Mark Scialla. Samantha Turner, and Melissa Wetzel.