Alternative spring break

March 2 2007

Back to Biloxi
Students forgo sun, sand, surf to help hurricane victims

Three dozen Indiana State University students will spend spring break in Biloxi, Miss. • not to soak up the sun on the Gulf Coast beaches or try their luck at the city’s casinos, but to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, who are still trying to put their lives and homes back together.

The students, 34 undergraduates and two graduate students from a recreation and sport management class, are taking part in ISU’s Alternative Spring Break as part of the course’s service-learning component. The students will be keeping daily journals of their activities and posting blogs, complete with photos and video, on the ISU Web site at

"Last year, for many of the students, this was a life-changing event. It gave them an appreciation for what they have, and what others have gone through," said Al Perone, ISU’s director of student activities and organizations.

Indiana State is one only two institutions in Indiana named by the Carnegie Foundation for Excellence in Teaching to a new classification of colleges and universities that focus on community engagement. ISU was recognized by Carnegie for previous efforts to help hurricane victims and for other ongoing community service efforts.

“The purpose of Alternative Spring Break is to provide an opportunity for students to be involved in an intensive community service experience,” said Nancy Rogers, director of ISU’s Center for Public Service and Community Engagement, which is co-sponsoring the trip.

Rogers said the students who participated in last year’s Alternative Spring Break decided to return to Biloxi.

“Last year’s students felt like there was still so much work to do,” she said. “So, they committed to return this year and next year.”

"Most people think since Hurricane Katrina was a year and a half ago, everything is OK,” said Perone, who is making his fourth Alternative Spring Break trip. “It's better, but it's not OK."

Alternative Spring Break is a collaboration with Hope Crisis Response Network of Elkhart, an organization that works to bring relief to areas that have been struck with a natural disaster.

Instead of playing sand volleyball on the beaches, students participating in Alternative Spring Break will find themselves working hard help hurricane victims, a year and a half after Katrina struck.

“The students may do some light construction work,” Rogers said. “There may still be demolition work, like tearing down drywall. They could be clearing brush or clearing debris. They could be doing some really intensive cleaning if there’s been mold.

“Whatever they do, it may vary from day to day, but they’re trying to help restore the community,” she said.

Indiana State students are already committed to returning to the Gulf Coast in 2008. Hope Crisis Center estimates it may take up to 10 years for the region to be restored.

With the trip as part of a class, the students have met regularly this semester to prepare.

“During those trainings, we have people who have done relief work in that area talk to the group. We do team-building activities so the group knows each other before trip,” Rogers said. “We also go over logistics and health and safety precautions.”

The students have also been doing their homework about the community of Biloxi before Hurricane Katrina hit, and after the destruction.

Though these students won’t come back to ISU with sun tans and beach souvenirs, they will return with the knowledge that they helped someone who has been devastated by disaster.

“Most of these students won’t have very many opportunities to have such a significant impact on helping someone after a disaster,” Rogers said. “When they leave at the end of the week, they can see that they made a difference and they helped people.”

Helping Gulf Coast hurricane victims rebuild is just one way ISU students are spending their spring break in non-traditional ways.

Social work students are assisting with the launch of a social work program in that North African nation, while family and consumer sciences students are embarking on a study tour of Italy, including sessions at Apicius • The Culinary Institute of Florence, and some business students are spending time in Taiwan to learn more about international banking and finance.

Contact: Al Perone, director, student activities and organizations, Indiana State University,

Media relations contact: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743,

Writer: Megan Anderson, media relations intern, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3773,

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Story Highlights

Many Indiana State University students are giving up traditional spring break activities to help others. Students in recreation and sport management, for example, are spending time in Biloxi, Miss. to help Gulf Coast hurricane victims rebuild.

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