Trading the beach for a chance to help

Children in Honduras climbed on Northeastern University senior Kayla Cormier like she was a big teddy bear.

“They loved me. They would tell me not to leave,” said Cormier, a sociology major who spent spring break planting mango trees, building a soccer field and helping impoverished children in Conception del Norte, Honduras, design a mural of small yellow handprints symbolizing daisies.

She was one of more than 160 Northeastern students who volunteered through the Center of Community Service’s Alternative Spring Break to help address needs such as affordable housing, disaster relief and youth education. Students volunteered in eight states and five countries, including Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

Energetic volunteers in Washington, D.C., and Louisiana said their 10-day service projects made a lifelong impact on hundreds of people.

Junior philosophy and English double-major Peter Roby volunteered for A Wider Circle, a nonprofit organization that helps people in need in the nation’s capital by providing free furniture for their homes.

Roby, who said that “sleeper-sofas are the heaviest thing you will lift in your entire life,” spent eight hours a day moving tables, chairs and toys from trucks to a showroom filled with furniture donated to the nonprofit.

“This is more than just a band-aid solution to poverty,” said Roby, who also helped remove mountains of trash and broken furniture from the showroom, where kids often picked out games and toys to bring back home. “It’s really powerful and moving to see the smile on people’s faces when they see the furniture,” he said.

Third-year marketing major Allison Crotty volunteered for Katrina’s Kids, an initiative launched by America’s Promise Alliance that educates children in Louisiana who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Crotty tutored a 9-year-old boy named Amani who temporarily moved to Texas with his twin sister after their house was destroyed by the disaster. Amani, like many of Katrina’s kids, had not gone to school on a regular basis for several years.

“Kids were shaken up and didn’t believe in themselves,” said Crotty, who also helped paint a room for the organization’s after-school program in bright orange, green and purple. As she put it, “We were there to tell them that they’re smart, and they truly are.”

Northeastern students, who reflected on their experiences after each day of hard work, learned as much about themselves as they did the culture, history and people of the communities where they volunteered, said Andrew Olson, assistant director of community service programs and events.

“Students realized that their experiences changed them as individuals and as a group,” said Olson, who served as a university representative for students who rebuilt a home in Louisiana for a woman with cystic fibrosis. “It gave them an appreciation for how lucky they are.”