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For student volunteers, spring-break activities are no day at the beach Maryland college groups provide help for needy during seasonal hiatus


Many college students still take spring breaks guzzling beer in Florida, but others swear you can't beat ripping out old walls in Kentucky mining towns or tutoring children in downtown Newark.

Several hundred Maryland college students volunteered during spring breaks to help needy people in Baltimore, Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, Pittsburgh and other places. Their numbers don't compete with the hordes flocking to self-indulgence on the beaches, but "college volunteering is a little on the upswing," says Donald Squire, Towson State University's assistant vice president for student life.

One group, 41 students from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Maryland College Park, rehabilitated four homes damaged by Hurricane Andrew four years ago in Homestead, Fla. After putting up roofing, windows and ceilings all day, they tutored children at night.

"God uses us in amazing ways," said president Jessica Willis, a senior from Columbia who plans a career in social service. "It was a nice break from intellectualizing in college."

Habitat for Humanity International, a thread that bound many volunteers, drew 162 from throughout the state. The nonprofit ecumenical Christian housing ministry said students from seven Maryland colleges were among 6,000 working nationwide for Habitat in its Collegiate Challenge.

Junior Amber Widmayer of Catonsville, one of 50 University of Maryland Baltimore County workers for Habitat in three states, said, "I volunteer so much during the year I can't imagine not volunteering during spring break."

Students, paying most of their own expenses, said they felt instant accomplishment. "It was awesome, the feeling of helping others," said Towson State sophomore Julie Heiland of Absecon, N.J., who cut wood and removed drywall with 14 fellow students. The Towson State students raised money, picked their project and became closer friends in Phelps, Ky. "We helped convert an old company store into a community center and Habitat for Humanity living space," Ms. Heiland said.

Twenty students from UMBC and 12 from the Johns Hopkins University went to Homestead. Twenty UMBC students went to New Orleans and 10 to Pittsburgh. Students from Hood College and St. Mary's College also helped Habitat.

Five Goucher College students went to Pittsburgh, sponsored by CAUSE, Community Auxiliary for Service.

Women often outnumbered men, reflecting national trends. Loyola College said its volunteers included 49 women and 22 men.

Some students worked in Maryland, but most left the state. No one should begrudge them that, said Sister Gwynette Proctor of Associated Catholic Charities. "Their motivation is so good," she said, laughing. "Let them travel. They're students. Others come here."

Baltimore was the destination for groups of 15 each from Pennsylvania State University, the University of New Hampshire and St. Lawrence University who worked under Sister Gwynette, director of Our Daily Bread and community services training.

Some students from area colleges worked here. Several from UMBC, as part of a yearlong project, tutored Baltimore children at James McHenry Elementary School and the East Baltimore Latino Organization.

An "alternative spring break" for Towson State was in its fourth year in Sandtown-Winchester houses in West Baltimore. On three days, up to 20 students did demolition, finishing and carpentry.

Some Morgan State University sorority and fraternity members work in Baltimore all year, including spring break. For instance, 54 sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha act as mentors to 20 to 30 girls at Hamilton Middle School.

Vice President Rashida Govan said the sorority runs many service programs, such as one on breast cancer awareness. Alpha Phi Alpha brothers assist students at Chinquapin Middle School and take West Baltimore children on field trips.

Some Loyola College volunteers lived with the homeless at Beans and Bread in East Baltimore, and others traveled. They fixed up low-income houses in Jackson, Miss., tutored and did other jobs among the poor in Newark, N.J., helped build a school in David, Ky., and worked in financially depressed Ivanhoe, Va.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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