While many University of Georgia students headed to the beach or journeyed back to their hometowns for some rest during spring break this March, more than 350 students decided to make an IMPACT-on their lives and the lives of others.
They took part in IMPACT, a program that offers substance-free, experiential service-learning projects and encourages an understanding of pressing societal issues. Students perform short-term projects for community agencies and learn about social justice issues, including homelessness and poverty, children's well-being, and affordable housing and construction.
And judging from some of the reactions from the student participants, it was an experience that will last a lifetime.
One group spent the week in Indianapolis, Ind., where the students worked with multiple public health agencies to educate youth about public health issues. "Some people would think that I ‘gave up' my spring break to serve the Indianapolis community, but in no way did I ‘give up' anything," said Jasmine Clayton, a freshman advertising major. "During this service trip, I gained a new perspective on the multiple meanings of public health. I learned that things aren't always the way they seem in terms of other people's hunger and financial situations. This trip was full of food, generosity, farming, shivering, serving and most of all, Indy love."
In Clinton, S.C., the group of students worked at the Thornwell Home for Children, focusing on children's advocacy and engaging with children who are experiencing difficult family circumstances.
"Everyone was loving, caring and respectful," said Suprina Patel, a first-year doctor of pharmacy student. "Even though these kids don't have a traditional home, Thornwell is the best alternative they have and that made me work 10 times harder during the week. The fact that some people care enough to give the less fortunate as much love as they give their own children made me never want to leave that magical campus."
The Thornwell work "inspired me to continuously search for new volunteer and community development opportunities," said Brianne Cate, a junior international affairs major, "and I can't see anything else I do in life being quite as rewarding."
IMPACT began as Alternative Spring Break at UGA in 1994. Since then, more than 1,800 UGA students have participated in the program. As it grew, the program, which is administered by the UGA Center for Leadership and Service within UGA's Division of Student Affairs, changed its name to IMPACT. The program also now offers service-learning opportunities during winter break.
The students during this year's IMPACT program racked up more than 14,000 hours of community service work at 19 sites across the U.S.
"Year after year," said Ross Beitzel, senior coordinator for the Center for Leadership and Service, "IMPACT provides students with meaningful and significant experiences that spark them to return to the UGA and Athens community with a strengthened desire to serve, as well as a deeper insight into themselves and others."
That sentiment is echoed by the student participants.
"IMPACT is life," said Cedric Maligaya, a sophomore social work major who spent the week in Orlando, Fla., working with children with life-threatening illnesses at Give Kids the World and working with abused children at New Hope for Kids. "The feeling you get when you have the chance to change people's lives for the better isn't something you can put into words. IMPACT changed my life because it allowed me to grow into the person I need to be to better myself and my community," he said.