On Tuesday, October 1, 2013, sign up for Alternative Spring Break 2014 volunteering will begin on New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH)’s website. Students from all over the United States and Canada—and more—will register with their colleges and high schools to help NOAHH build homes, engage the community in neighborhood cleanup and other activities. Over the past eight years, NOAHH has hosted over 15,000 student volunteers during alternative spring break trips for over 600,000 volunteer hours from college and high school students, making it one of the top five alternative spring break destinations.
Interested schools or groups will be able to sign up through on NOAHH’s website here. Participants will build homes alongside NOAHH partner families and staff and help with neighborhood cleanup projects—enjoying the cultural and entertainment offerings of New Orleans in their spare time.
“The work done in those few months is incredible,” said Jim Pate, executive director of NOAHH. “Between the absolutely perfect weather and the influx of volunteers, the conditions are just right for getting out there and making a difference.”
This past year, over 1,100 students from 40 different schools joined NOAHH between late February and early May. While they primarily worked on homes, each Friday in the month of March, NOAHH coordinated volunteers in neighborhood cleanup efforts through the Attack the Block program, which focused on four neighborhoods. A similar program is planned for 2014.
According to Linda Wharton of the London Central School of Jazz in Ontario, every year, her students’ lives are changed by their experience volunteering, changing their world view by taking them out of their normal routines. Wharton has been a sponsor of three volunteer trips to New Orleans, and each time, she says, the high level of passion, resource, and enthusiasm remains constant.
Sarah Shin, the program coordinator for the Office of Experience Learning at Molloy College in Long Island, N.Y., has been bringing students to volunteer since 2007. On her trip in 2012, she noted that while her return experience showed her the progress in the city, the fresh eyes of her students noticed the work that still needed to be done.
“There’s resilience to the people,” Shin said, explaining what she admires about New Orleans. “A beautiful spirit that’s so different from New York. When people ask how you are and say hello, you can tell they really care.”
In past years, students have come from as far away as the American School of the Hague, from every coast of the United States, and from all over Canada. Many schools, like Juilliard School or George Washington University, make the annual trip, and each year sees newcomers who make a lasting impression on the city with the work they do—and the city often makes a lasting impression on them.
According to Becca Rich of George Washington University, who made her second volunteer trip in 2012, her first trip changed her. She became dedicated not just to helping others through volunteer work, but to helping others have the same experiences she did. She became a group leader for her second trip, hoping to witness the same personal progress in those she brought with her.
Students from 19 states and Canada volunteered in 2013, but most of the support comes from local New Orleans universities and high schools. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, college students of Atlanta, Ga., have the highest volunteer rate with 34.7%. New Orleans does not rank in the top 20 cities, meaning its volunteer rate is below 15.9%, well below the national average of 26.6%. Despite this, over a third of spring break volunteers come from Xavier University, Tulane University, Loyola University of New Orleans, Mt. Carmel Academy, and other local schools.
Spring is the busiest time of the year for NOAHH’s volunteer schedule. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.9% of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 volunteered in 2010, lower than any other age range, but every year, the period of greatest activity for NOAHH in terms of numbers of volunteers is always alternative spring break. “