Spring break might mean a trip to a southern sun-drenched beach or a visit home for some college students, but for five young adults at McDaniel College, it presented an opportunity to make a difference in the community.

Spring break might mean a trip to a southern sun-drenched beach or a visit home for some college students, but for five young adults at McDaniel College, it presented an opportunity to make a difference in the community.

On Thursday morning, McDaniel sophomore Nadia Sorezza and four other students had set up an assembly line on a long table, where colorful bags were decorated and then filled with shampoo and other toiletries. Known as First Night Bags, they will be donated to Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, according to Sorezza.

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"We made 40 of these today. They have shampoo, conditioners, tooth brushes, a little [bath sponge]," she said. "They are basically a way to take care of yourself after a SAFE exam, which is a forensic exam to obtain evidence after a sexual assault or rape."

A person who has been sexually assaulted is asked not to shower, brush their teeth or even change their clothes before an exam can be completed because, "they will take hair samples and clean everything to collect as much forensic evidence as possible," Sorezza said. "These are just things to help you clean up afterward because often after events like this your first impulse is to go shower and to try and feel clean again."

Assembling the bags was just one of the activities the students engaged in as part of an Alternative Spring Break program, which Sorezza organized; they have also viewed documentaries, met with representatives from local organizations such as Family and Children Services, and visited nonprofits focusing on domestic violence and sexual assault issues.

"I am interested in working with nonprofits after graduation, so I think one of the reasons this has been such a valuable experience is that it gives students the opportunity to see how nonprofits work, to see how larger organizations work and how they are structured," Sorezza said. "We are not only learning facts and statistics about these issues, but how we combat these issues as a society as well."

On Wednesday, the group saw the front lines firsthand when they visited Survivors Inc., a nonprofit shelter for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It really brought things into focus for Jamie Calderon, a McDaniel junior from Falls Church, Virginia, who was surprised to see there were very few male volunteers.

"Now that I know that, it's something I want to do myself and also spread the word and make more guys volunteer for causes like this," Calderon said. "It's not just a girls kind of thing, it's an everybody kind of thing."

Alex Seiler, a junior from Essex Junction, Vermont, said she enjoyed the Alternative Spring Break program because she had not had the time to volunteer as much as she would have liked to during the academic school year and the topic of the program was important to her.

"I am a young woman in college, so I know a lot of people who have been sexually assaulted," Seiler said. "Having this free week where I wasn't going to be doing anything else anyway, I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to do something I find very rewarding."

That's the general idea behind Alternative Spring Break programs at other colleges, according to Sorezza, who first learned of the concept when some friends in her hometown of Lutz, Florida, participated in a similar program at their school. The program she organized at McDaniel was the first to be held on the campus.

Sorezza applied for and won $1,300 in funding for the Alternative Spring Break through McDaniel College's annual Griswold-Zepp Award, which has been given since 1991 to projects focused on volunteerism and community services, according to Connie Sgarlata, director of the college's Center for Experience and Opportunity.

"It awards up to $3,000 each year to provide for proposed volunteer experiences for McDaniel students to address needs that are local, regional, national or worldwide — it depends on what they propose," Sgarlata said. "I think what really inspired us to choose this program for the award was that it was going to impact our students and it was going to impact the community and it was going to educate our students about social issues."

Although only a small number of students participated in the Alternative Spring Break program this year, Sorezza said she is ecstatic with the way things have turned out for the group and hopes to see the program grow next year.

"It's sort of a test run or a springboard for trying to do this on a larger scale," she said. "Bringing some of the volunteer type things like the First Night Bag assembly to campus during the academic year."

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