HU Students Spend Spring Break Helping Others

Sam P.K. Collins | 3/27/2013, 8:59 p.m.

Tierra Holmes could have opted to spend Spring Break frolicking with friends, partying and catching some rays on a beach in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Panama City or Daytona Beach, but she and more than 500 of her Howard University compatriots, chose instead, to immerse themselves into a range of service projects across the U.S. and in the island nation of Haiti.

The students chose to forego fun and through the university's hallmark Alternative Spring Break program were able to give back to communities in need of their time and effort.

"I personally love service and don't mind engaging the community," said Holmes, a 19-year-old sophomore. "I always wished I could see more of D.C. There's so much diversity in this city that I wouldn't have seen if not for the Alternative Spring Break program."

Earlier this month, Howard University undergrads and graduate students volunteered to participate in service learning projects in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, St. Louis and Haiti. However, the smallest group of volunteers remained in the District.

Instead of bus trips to another city, the group boarded the Metro for 30 minutes to their service site, all of them donning Howard sweaters. Even though they stayed the closest geographically to their school, they considered their work just as important.

Holmes volunteered at Covenant House Washington, a local emergency shelter and crisis center for at-risk youth, along with 17 other Howard University students. Covenant House Washington - located in Southeast - is part of an international network that's helped homeless youth find stable housing since 1972.

Founded in 1994, Covenant House Washington expanded into a multisite agency serving young adults in Northeast and Southeast under the leadership of Vincent C. Gray, its first executive director and current D.C. mayor. Today, services include transitional housing, GED and college preparation classes, a job resource center, and a day care.

The Howard University volunteers created a series of activities geared toward elementary and middle-school students enrolled in Covenant House's Prevention Services Program. This is an after-school program that promotes positive and healthy lifestyles for children in grades five through nine. The Women's History Month-themed activities required the children to focus on important women in their lives.

The student volunteers hoped to openly engage the children and talk to them about their college experiences.

"It's exciting to see young people giving up their time for service," said the Rev. Sindile Dlamini, 41, a site advisor for the Alternative Spring Break program. "We hope that the children at Covenant House recognize that the Howard students can be role models for what they hope to accomplish in life," the Northwest resident said.

Under the guidance of the student volunteers, the children drew pictures of women who inspired them. During another activity, children wrote letters to first lady Michelle Obama about problems they often face in their neighborhoods. While some grumbled about the quality of school lunches in their letters, others wrote about their admiration for Sasha and Malia, the first lady's daughters.

Later, the student volunteers and children painted a mural on the wall across from the Prevention Services classroom. The mural depicted a group of children picking fruit from a large apple tree. Sekayi Hernandes, a junior and the student volunteer who organized the mural painting activity, called the mural a symbol of the Howard students' relationship with the children at Covenant House.