A group of eight students from the University of Vermont traveled twenty hours this week to spend their spring break volunteering in Gainesville.
The students are part of an organization at the university called Alternative Spring Break, which sends groups of students each year to different communities throughout the country for volunteer work. This group spent the week volunteering at the local Habitat for Humanity for Hall County, Gateway House Thrift Store and Sisu Integrated Early Learning.
“As a freshman I knew that something like this would help me meet more people who are like-minded as myself,” said Maddy Metcalf. “Plus, I really like being busy and having cool things to do so that’s kind of how I found Alternative Spring Break.”
The group arrived in Gainesville on Saturday and plans on leaving Thursday. They were originally assigned to volunteer only at Sisu, but then Sisu Executive Director Jamie Reynolds approached them about spending time with other non-profits.
“We were like, ‘yeah, of course!’” said Brittany Baker. “It was just really cool to see how the whole community kind of comes together and they really support each other.”
While at Sisu, the group spent a lot of time in classrooms helping teachers with the children. They also helped to organize the non-profit’s library and even cleaned the outdoor playgrounds.
Reynolds said that having the volunteers around is a huge benefit to Sisu, because they help alleviate some of the work.
“It’s great to have an extra set of hands in the classroom,” said Reynolds. “Just to be able to say to someone will you help wash hands or will you open the door. It’s a tremendous benefit to our teachers.”
Reynolds mentioned that Sisu has hosted numerous student volunteer groups in the past, but she enjoyed this group in particular because of the interest they have in the Hall County community.
“They were looking for grits, they were looking for collard greens, they were looking for different things that they were not familiar with and that kind of adds to the adventure for them,” said Reynolds.
And speaking of adventure, the group took advantage of their trip by visiting some local stores in Gainesville. They were especially looking forward to trying Southern comfort food at Longstreet Café.
But just as important to each of the students is the opportunity to learn more about what Sisu does and take some of this knowledge back with them to Vermont.
“One of the biggest things that I think I took away is that kids learn really well from other kids,” said Juliet Malkowski. “There’s a lot of clubs on campus that have connections with children and work with children, so I think that putting that thought process into making activities for kids would be a really cool thing to do.”
“It would be really great if we could have this organization in Vermont,” said Lucia Blanchard. “I believe so many children would benefit from it.”
Reynolds said that the students learning more about early childhood education is important to her, as well.
“It’s really lighting a light and I think they’re all pleasantly surprised when they come and visit,” said Reynolds. “We have an incredible group of executive directors that help to make their experience even more special by opening the doors at Habitat and at Gateway.”
Even though the week is winding down, each of the group members agree that friendships have been made.
“I feel like I’m very close to everyone on this trip,” said Baker. “Some things are not fun, like driving in the van for twenty hours, but we were just laughing the whole time.”