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Tough Breaks

Question: What do you get when you cross one rabbi, two ROTC batallion leaders, one campus chaplain, and 15 Hopkins undergraduates of all different faiths? Answer: An "alternative" spring break that shatters the stereotype of this annual collegiate rite. When the mid-semester break rolled around in March, this unlikely group headed south for sunnier climes. But they landed in rural Moss Point, Mississippi, rather than Fort Lauderdale, and they spent their week wielding hammers and paintbrushes instead of chugging beer. Their goal: to help rebuild one of the many communities that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Their working vacation, it seems, is part of a new trend at Hopkins and at colleges across the nation — a trend that brings a smile to the face of university chaplain Sharon Kugler, whose office of Campus Ministries sponsored the expedition to Mississippi. While there are still plenty of college students who want to spend spring break perfecting their tans on pristine beaches, a growing number are making service the object of their travels.

"Even though we were a little late in marketing the trip, there was no shortage of enthusiasm," Kugler reports. "We had to cut off applications and turn some students down." And the interfaith group was just one of three from Johns Hopkins that devoted spring break to Katrina relief efforts. Students from the Institute for Policy Studies (with friends and family) spent their week "off" in the hard-hit St. Bernard Parish area, removing debris and starting to rebuild. At night, it was no Radisson for them; they roughed it at Camp Premier, the emergency tent city. A third group of Hopkins students worked with the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans, gutting condemned houses to make way for new construction.

Kugler says that these experiences can be nothing short of life changing for students. And she should know. Her daughter Emily, a senior at University of Southern California, just returned from her fourth spring break service adventure — Hurricane Stan relief in Guatemala.

At mid-week in Moss Point, Mississippi, assistant chaplain Kathy Schnurr called in to report that the Hopkins relief team was "upbeat," and excited about fixing dinner that evening for all the relief groups sharing space with them at Dantzler Memorial United Methodist Church. Says Kugler, "Gandhi asked for people to 'Be the change they want to see in the world.' These young people are the very embodiment of that powerful notion."

-Sue De Pasquale

Return to April 2006 Table of Contents

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