For some Texas State students, spring break is about volunteering and service learning
Julie Cooper | April 1, 2019
From volunteering in Louisiana to experiencing the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, spring break offered a chance for Texas State University students to give back, make connections, and have profound learning experiences.
Bobcat Break in Louisiana
Bobcat Break provided an opportunity for 25 undergraduates to visit Louisiana, where they volunteered at a national park site and helped out in a city still making a comeback from a devastating hurricane.
The Student Volunteer Connection (SVC) — within the office of Student Involvement — sponsors Bobcat Break with weeklong trips organized during the semester breaks and one weekend trip each long semester. In March, Bobcats traveled to Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, Louisiana, and to Camp Restore in New Orleans. There they focused on environmental and human care, working alongside others under the direction of volunteer coordinators, according to Amanda Martindale, coordinator for service and the advisor for SVC.
The trips usually attract more freshmen, but they are open to all students. Martindale says many participants were volunteers while in high school, and some are officers in the SVC. This is the second time that the university has partnered with Black Bayou and Camp Restore.
Students pay a deposit of $50 to be part of Bobcat Break. The money helps to offset some expenses such as food and transportation but is mostly seen as a commitment to the event, Martindale says. Students travel there by van and stay on site.
Camp Restore partners with nonprofits to provide volunteers with opportunities to help year-round. Junior education major Anna Wakefield volunteered at a different service project each day through Camp Restore. Her team began the week by working at Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO), where they sorted and repackaged recycled Mardi Gras beads. ArcGNO provides services to individuals with special needs.
Other projects during the week included working at a rescue horse ranch, helping out at a food pantry, volunteering at a thrift store, and serving as janitor’s and teacher’s aides at an elementary school.
Senior English major Aricelda Calderon participated in her first Bobcat Break at Black Bayou doing mostly outdoor volunteer activities. Her group laid gravel paths, painted furniture, and cleared trash. She said the best part for her was working with school children on field trips. After an instructional orientation from a volunteer coordinator, Calderon and team led students along the trails of Black Bayou. The Bobcats worked every morning and three evenings while at the refuge.
Discovering the U.S. Civil Rights Trail
Students in the School of Social Work discovered the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, experienced the movement and learned about the fight for civil rights.
For the 10 social work undergraduates, the seven-day trip was a chance to take part in and understand the ongoing work for social justice and human rights. Trip participants were selected based on criteria including an essay, statement of goals, and a commitment to participating in social justice activities upon their return.
“Going on the Civil Rights Trail provided me with a deeper understanding of the hardships that many people of color faced. Along the trail, we were privileged enough to meet and speak with civil rights movement activists from Alabama and Mississippi,” said junior Gerardo “Jerry” Martinez.
“Each one was thrilled to meet us and impart their wisdom and experience to us so we, in turn, can make a difference in the world and for those around us. It was as if all the pieces aligned for us to be in these moments to absorb the knowledge being passed down to us by these heroes.”
Stops along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail included the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, the Freedom Rides Museum, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
For senior Amber England it was both an eye-opening and heart-breaking trip. “This trip has taught me that not a lot has changed since the civil rights movement. Slavery and segregation may have ended (not that long ago), but they have only transformed into systemic oppression and racism. School districts are more segregated now than ever. The school-to-prison pipeline contributes to the overrepresentation of people of color in our prisons. High rates of police brutality reflect how little things have actually changed.
“We were lucky enough to meet various activists that participated in the civil rights movement. How amazing is it that we got to meet and talk to real people who were fighting (and are still fighting) for their freedom and who got us to where we are today?”