In the midst of holiday activities, students took the time to give back this winter break. Eight students and one staff member from EKU traveled to Grand Isles, Louisiana on this year’s Winter Alternative Break trip from Jan. 5 to Jan. 12.
Alternative Breaks are service trips organized through EKU that allow students to volunteer over a scheduled school break, to travel to another area of the country and work with local non-profit organizations for a week.
“We usually just do one over winter break and this has been our location the past few years, going down to the New Orleans area,” said Sarah Schultz, the associate director of student engagement.
“They have a lot of great community partners there, so one thing we try to do is build relationships. So now that we have a great relationship, we really love going back to serve. They create a positive experience to really immerse our students in the culture and the service topic at hand,” Schultz said.
The trips typically focus on a particular social issue. The students spend the week immersed in an atmosphere that enables them to work hands-on with that issue according to communityservice.eku.edu. These issues can vary from poverty, the environment, public health, and many others.
The focus of this particular winter break trip was environmental conservation and restoration and to learn about the issues facing this community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The students worked with organizations in the Grand Isle State Park and the Nature Conservancy Woods to pick up litter and help rid the area of an invasive plant species called air potatoes that had been occupying the forests.
The group also embarked on a tour of a Wildlife and Fisheries lab, a visit to an oyster hatchery and the area’s oldest shrimp drying factory.
The group also presented environmental sustainability information as well as facts about Kentucky and EKU to a group of sixth and seventh graders in the area according to Dylan Bogard, the coordinator of community service for the office of student life and first year experience. Bogard served as the faculty leader on this trip.
Anna Crawford, a senior Criminal Justice major from Owensboro, and Laura Gover, a sophomore Recreation and Parks Administration major from Richmond, went on the trip.
It was the first time traveling to the Louisiana area for both ladies and they both said they found the experience rewarding and appreciated the friendships they made on the trip.
“I didn’t really know anyone except one friend,” Gover said. “I got to do some work that was related to my field and see a new place.”
Crawford said, “I think it’s important to go on these trips because you are making new friends, you are learning things about yourself, and most importantly, you are taking the time out of your day to help someone else.”
“An important part of my life is service,” Crawford said. “I thought it would be a good way to give back during the off-season from school, so I decided to go to a new place and help them out.”
The group had primarily been working with conservancy staff member, Jean Landry to clean up the Grand Isle area.
“My favorite part was spending time with Miss Jean while she was telling us about the work a conservationist does and how she works with the townspeople to improve their island,” said Crawford.
The students said that the biggest impact they thought they had on their trip was simply making the conservationists’ job easier.
“I didn’t realize how much they actually appreciated the volunteer groups. The lady we were working with, Miss Jean, it was literally just her who works with the conservancy, there aren’t really people who help her out. It would take a long time for her to get done what we did in just a short amount of time,” said Gover.
“I really feel like our students got to take away the importance of making a positive impact and getting to immerse themselves in the topic at hand,” Schultz said. “And really seeing how they can learn about an area and not just go and volunteer for the sake of volunteering, especially when it comes to conservation. In the greater New Orleans area, there is lot’s to preserve … Of course, then they have the opportunity to bond and create some great friendships to bring back to campus too.”