A group of 438 UGA students is forgoing typical trips to the beach and amusement parks to spend its spring break participating in community service work at 20 sites across the U.S.
These students are serving in soup kitchens, cleaning up state parks, building family housing and working with abused children. The students signed on for IMPACT, a program that offers substance-free service-learning projects and encourages an understanding of pressing societal issues. Students are performing short-term projects for community agencies and learning about social justice issues, including homelessness and poverty, children’s well-being, affordable housing and construction, human rights, environmental topics, animal advocacy, Native American culture, disability and HIV/AIDS awareness.
Kalpana Reddy, a third-year biology and psychology major, is one of the student site leaders for a trip to Bluefield, W.Va., focusing on ageism. There students are learning about mentoring programs and spending time with senior citizens.
“IMPACT opens peoples’ eyes to social injustices that exist outside our UGA bubble,” Reddy said. “It gives students the resources to fight these injustices through one unique and life-changing week of service.”
The program evolves each year, adding trips based on student interest. New initiatives this year include activities focusing on urban environmental issues, food justice, educational advocacy, rural homelessness and poverty.
Sarah Ginsberg, a fourth-year advertising and sociology major who serves as IMPACT’s outreach coordinator, believes students benefit from the experience because they gain an awareness of social justice issues that they can put to use in their own communities.
“Participants complete their trips knowing how much of a difference they made in the community they served, which often inspires them to continue their involvement in service upon their return to Athens,” Ginsberg said.
IMPACT is one of hundreds of similar programs that take place across the nation in colleges and high schools. It is run almost entirely by student volunteers with guidance from one professional staff member and one doctoral intern.
Some of UGA’s trips this spring break, their focus and what students are doing, are:
• Asheboro, N.C., affordable housing, students are helping to build a house for a family;
• Atlanta, human rights and LGBT awareness, students are working with Georgia Equality, Atlanta Pride, the Health Initiative and HRC Atlanta;
• Bluefield, W.Va., ageism, students are learning about youth empowerment through mentoring programs and spending time with seniors;
• Charleston, S.C., animal advocacy, students are promoting issues involving animals and learning how to live a more animal-friendly lifestyle;
• Charlotte, N.C., education advocacy, students are working with Teach for America and KIPP schools;
• Chicago, Ill., homelessness and poverty, students are volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters;
• Clinton, S.C., children’s advocacy, students are volunteering at Thornwell Home for Children and are working with children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected;
• Durham, N.C., food justice, students are visiting farms and serving in food banks and pantries;
• Gulf Shores, Ala., human trafficking, students are volunteering with prevention and rehabilitation trafficking organizations;
• Immokalee, Fla., immigration, students are working with organizations that help the children of immigrants and organizations that provide supplies to immigrants who live below the poverty line; and
• Indianapolis, Ind., public health, students are working with farms and promoting physical activity in children through a partnership with the YMCA.