Springing Into Service

Students prepare for volunteer work during next week's vacation

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Spring break has meant one thing for Malini DeSilva '03 during her time at Boston College: rewarding and enlightening experiences, all courtesy of the University's Appalachia Volunteer Program.

As a freshman, she worked in a remote Virginia community, where she learned how to do traditional Appalachian clog dancing and, instead of sleeping late, would be up to watch the sun rise over the mountains.

This weekend, DeSilva will head off along with 11 other BC students to St. Francis Farm, NY, where they will shovel snow, work at an after-school program for migrants, and assist with building projects and a variety of other jobs.

While seniors like DeSilva will be on their last Appalachia Volunteers trip, for some of the other nearly 550 students participating in the program the coming week will be their introduction to BC's tradition of spring break service. Through Appalachia Volunteers and other programs, several hundred BC students each year reach out to those less fortunate, at sites across the United States as well as in other countries.

If DeSilva's experience is any guide, nothing these students have done before is likely to prepare them for what they will see and learn about the world, and themselves as well.

"Not only did my first trip provide me with insights into some of the realities of life that I had previously overlooked, but it also put me in touch with other like-minded students who became some of my closest friends," said DeSilva, a biology major from Topeka, Kan. "As I look back, it is clear that the friendships I've made through the program and the interactions I have had with people while on spring break have been some of the most important connections I have made in college.

"One of the most memorable experiences I had while on an Appalachia trip occurred my sophomore year. The first night at our site, Phyllis, the woman in charge of the site, told my group, 'Don't try and fool us, we know that you're getting more out of this experience than we are.' I thought about what she told us many times over the next year. The implications of her statement immediately made me look at public service in a new light. Her words made me aware that while the service aspect of 'public service' was very important, perhaps more important was advocacy for policy changes that could alter the current situations of so many people.

"I realized that unless I internalized my service experiences and turned them into goals I could work towards the rest of my life, I was not going to be able to change anything."

This year, DeSilva decided to enhance her Appalachia Volunteers participation by serving on a newly formed committee of students who assisted in planning and organizing the trips.

"I thought that by being part of the planning committee for the program, I could make it more of a year-long experience," she said. "Part of making this experience last all year comes from making the weekly meetings more meaningful through group discussions, guest speakers, and videos. The experiences that take place throughout the year give a foundation for the service done over spring break, hopefully making it more fulfilling."

Among the other spring break service trips this year, Lynch School of Education Associate Dean John Cawthorne will bring a group of students for a return trip to work at the Holy Family Catholic School in Natchez, Miss. LSOE students have frequently performed service at Holy Family, the nation's oldest African-American parochial school, which has been in danger of closing for lack of funds.


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