Words by Patrick Williams

A truck is crushed by a house after Hurricane Katrina. Photo provided by Dr. George Garrison.

George Garrison couldn’t rest.

Hurricane Katrina had just struck the gulf coast, and Garrison, Ph.D professor and immediate past president of the Pan African Faculty and Staff Association, knew what he had to do.

Garrison, with the help of the Kent State NAACP Chapter and Family & Community Services, collected enough food, clothing and water to nearly fill an 18-wheeler truck. He followed the truck all the way to the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., within weeks of the disaster.

Upon delivering the materials, Garrison went further south to Biloxi, Miss., on the Gulf Coast, where he talked to The Rev. Kenneth Haynes Sr. at the Main Street Missionary Baptist Church.

Haynes told Garrison he was in church with some members when the water hit. It rose to nine feet on the first floor. He and the church members prayed all night as the walls buckled.

Haynes looked out the window. “He said he saw people floating down,” Garrison says. “He said there was a 25-foot wall of water. He saw people. He said he knew that they were lost.”

Garrison returned to Kent State, and he was in the M.A.C. Annex locker room when he overheard a conversation between Dr. Gary Padak, who was then dean of Undergraduate Studies, and Ron Perkins, who was assistant director of Dining Services, about taking students, faculty and staff to Biloxi to help the hurricane victims. Garrison told them about the work he had done and that he wanted to do more. The three formed a group called Kent State United for Biloxi.

In spring of 2006, hundreds of Kent State students, faculty, staff and Kent community members traveled to Pass Christian, Miss., about 20 miles from Biloxi, where tents were set up and a larger relief effort was underway. This was the first Alternative Spring Break.


Ann Gosky is senior special assistant in the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement, which now oversees Alternative Spring Break. Here are the upcoming trips:

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Photo provided by the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement.

Trip: Spencer, W.Va.

Dates: March 22-28

Cost: $400

Activities: Visiting museums; having discussions on generational poverty, mountaintop removal and Elk River chemical spill; hauling wood; cleaning homes; raking gravel; digging ditches; painting; watching movies and visiting with the community

Locations: Appalachian Catholic Worker community, West Virginia State Museum Whipple Company Store & Appalachian Heritage Museum, Possum Holler music store, various houses and churches

The trip to Spencer, W.Va, will transport students to a rural town with limited cell phone reception. “If you want the web, you have to go probably a half-an-hour drive into town and sit in McDonald’s parking lot,” Gosky says. Yet, something about this area brings in full groups of Alternative Spring Break students from other universities every year, which is why Kent State students couldn’t go, except for on weekend trips, until now.

Students will meet with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, a group opposed to mountaintop removal. Its coordinator, Jeannie Kirkhope, says contaminates from it have caused cancer and lung problems, and explosions from when mountaintops have been blown off have destroyed people’s water wells and foundations in their homes.

Appalachian, generational poverty will also be discussed. The historical War on Poverty was meant to improve life there but instead has created a larger reliance on welfare, Kirkhope says. Appalachians are hard workers, she says, and they take care of each other. Students will learn more about them and their struggles by watching movies and touring museums, but mostly by going out and meeting them in the community, at locations such as the Possum Holler music store.

In addition to being coordinator of CCA, Kirkhope is director of the Appalachian Catholic Worker community and will lead students to various project sites. Students will visit the elderly and clean their homes, as well as haul wood, rake gravel, dig ditches and paint at multiple homes and churches. They will stay in a bunkhouse in the ACW community.

Photo provided by the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement.

Trip: Cleveland

Dates: March 24-29

Cost: $125

Activities: Living in community, serving food, eating with the homeless, touring the streets

Locations: Catholic Worker Storefront, West Side Catholic Center, St. Herman’s House of Hospitality

Students in Cleveland will be staying with the Catholic Worker community, which works on service projects with multiple nonprofits in the area.

“The lifestyle of people living in that community is different than maybe our traditional one where we grow up, get our degree, go to work, get paid for a job and live by ourselves” Gosky says. “This is really a living-in community where both tangible and non-tangible talents and assets are shared in community, so it’s a little different in that respect.”

Students on the trip will live together in a community of their own, says Peter Quilligan, a Catholic Worker volunteer. They will sleep in sleeping bags on the floor of a basic apartment in the near west side of Cleveland and will cook meals for each other.

They will also immerse themselves in poverty—walking around poor neighborhoods, working at the Catholic Worker Storefront, a drop-in center for the homeless, and eating with the poor at the West Side Catholic Center and St. Herman’s House of Hospitality, Quilligan says.

“They will get a real sense of what it feels like to be other side,” Quilligan says.

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Photo provided by JJ Voelker.

Trip: Buffalo, N.Y.

Dates: March 23-29

Cost: $275

Activities: Construction with Habitat for Humanity, taking part in a cultural exchange with Native Americans, attending fracking lectures, sightseeing

Locations: Harvest House, ‘Habitat’ site, Niagara Falls

The trip to Buffalo, N.Y. will include a week-long project with Habitat for Humanity, a cultural exchange with Native Americans in the area and a discussion on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Students will stay at the Harvest House retreat center, says JJ Voelker, campus missionary pastor of Lutheran Campus Ministries at Kent State.

Like the Spencer trip, the Buffalo trip will help foster critical thinking through a discussion on an environmental topic: fracking.

The people who will head the fracking discussion err more on the side of seeing it as harmful rather than helpful, Gosky says, although it is important for students to weigh both sides and draw their own conclusions.

Fracking companies want to drill on Native American land, which creates tension among the tribes in the Buffalo area, Gosky says. “Some people on the reservation want to allow them to come in and do that,” she says. “Others don’t because I think culturally Native Americans want to protect Mother Earth, and that is very important in their culture.”

Native American tribes in the Buffalo area face more problems than just fracking, Gosky says. The cultural exchange will teach students about those problems as well as the many positive aspects of their everyday lives. Also for fun, they will visit Niagara Falls, Voelker says.

Photo provided by Julie Ellul.

Trip: Columbiana County

Dates: March 23-28

Cost: $80

Activities: Marking trails, attending lectures about poverty, preparing food and delivering it to the impoverished

Locations: Camp Frederick, Columbiana County parks, The Homer Laughlin China Company, Catholic Charities Diocese of Youngstown

The Columbiana County trip has about 40 spots this year. Students on the trip will stay and work at Camp Frederick in the town of Rogers and will improve the camp for children who will come in the summer, says Rachael Esterly, who is organizing the trip and works as an instructional technologist at Kent State’s Salem and East Liverpool campuses.

As they have done in years past, students will mark trails for the Columbiana County Parks District. They might mark a new trail for a 752-acre park because, as of now, the park only has one trail, Esterly says.

Students will attend lectures about poverty and dish up food for those who need it at the Catholic Charities Diocese of Youngstown. Like Spencer, Columbiana County is in the Appalachian Mountains and much of the poverty there is generational.

One of the county’s biggest employers is The Homer Laughlin China Company, a manufacturer of Fiestaware that students will get to visit. Although it provides jobs, the facilities are dirty, Esterly says.

Julie Ellul, a graduate student in higher education and a graduate assistant in the admissions office, was one of the student leaders on the 2013 trip. As student leader, she led a team who worked on two projects; one was at an elderly apartment community, and the other was at Charles Burchfield Homestead Museum in Salem.

“I really wish I was going again this year,” Ellul says. “It was a really neat experience, and it was very rewarding. I know most people—if you tell them you’re going to sleep on the floor for a week and do volunteer work, they’d probably run in the other direction.”


Deadlines for Alternative Spring Break have been extended to March 1.

Alternative Spring Break can fulfill the experiential learning requirement that all students with a 2012 catalog year or later must have. An application must be filled out for Alternative Spring Break to be considered as a plus-1 credit or non-course activity.