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San Diego native Christina Smith remembers vividly when it struck her last year how important it was to be in Chicago for spring break rather than on a beach back home. “We were talking to the students, and one of them told me how his aunt owned a store in his neighborhood, but it was too dangerous for him to walk to the store and visit her,” Smith, 20, recalled. And everybody could tell you a story about a friend or someone from their family who had been killed.” Smith and other Howard students are back in Chicago to fight gun violence as part of the as part of the university’s annual Alternative Spring Break Program.
For many of the dozens of students in Atlanta this week to help during Alternative Spring Break (ASB), the experience is a familiar one. While they may not have come to Atlanta, many have worked in New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit or Washington during the annual program when hundreds of Howard students volunteer to help in underserved communities.
They could have gone to any of a dozen cities where the comforts of home awaited them. They could have hopped onto a plane and headed for a beach on the Florida coast or more exotic locales, like Jamaica, the Bahamas or Cozumel. Instead, they have skipped the beach or the trip back home to help educate children and to talk with other students on the importance of continuing their education after high school. Their work here from March 15 to March 19 is part of the university’s annual Alternative Spring Break, in which every year hundreds of students volunteer to participate in the student-run, student financed program.
In Detroit, unemployment is hovering near 20 percent percent, the number of home foreclosures are rampant and the there are lots of gray, overcast skies as the winter trudges along. So, what would make dozens of students trade spring break in Miami or Cancun for a week in Detroit? Because the rate of illiteracy rate in is one of the highest in the nation. Instead of taking a leisure vacation at the typical spring break destinations, these Howard students have chosen to help the local Detroit students and adults who are struggling with their reading skills.
Scores of Howard Students Work on Environment in New Orleans
Since Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans Aug 20, 2005 and left billions of dollars in damage, scores of Howard University students have been going to New Orleans to help the city’s restoration. In previous years, they painted and repaired damaged homes and buildings or hauled away trash. This year, the 80 undergraduate students going to New Orleans will tackle environmental restoration.
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Alternative Spring Break 2011

Last year, more than 300 Howard students passed up vacations of fun in the sun in Florida or the Caribbean during their Spring Break and instead rolled up their sleeves to help families across America.

They worked in five cities -- New Orleans, where thousands are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina; Chicago, where gun violence haunts the footsteps of the city’s children; Detroit, where nearly a quarter of the city’s adults are functionally illiterate, and Washington, D.C., where many young people’s dreams of a brighter future are clouded by despair.

This year, they will be returning to those locations where they will provide tutoring, cook and serve lunches and dinners, clean up lots and paint houses, provide legal assistance and other needed help.  Additionally, plans are underway to possibly help in Haiti, which is still reeling from the January 2010 earthquake that left widespread devastation.

On March 13, the students will board buses from Howard for long, sometimes 14-hour rides to their destination cities. Students won’t have the luxury of a hotel during that week. Instead, they will hunker down in sleeping bags and air mattresses in churches and schools. Meals are provided, but still it’s a rough week. But they have been doing it since 1966 many of them year after year, when the Office of the Dean of the Chapel began helping organize these service-learning experiences at no expense to students. 

Nearly 100 Howard students tutored children in an Atlanta school during last year's ASB
Howard University students help shore up the environment during an ASB project in New Orleans

Help Us Help Others through the WHUR Radiothon

It is estimated that it will cost approximately $100,000 to send the students to the various locations.  WHUR 96.3 FM and Howard University will host a 12-hour radiothon from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, March 6, to defray this cost.

The “Helping Hands” radiothon asks listeners to phone in, drop by the radio station or to go online to make a contribution.  Students will form a Bucket Brigade at the corner of Georgia Avenue & Bryant Streets, NW. Suntrust operators man the phone banks for donations.

To make a donation now, please click the "Donate" button below to proceed: