Students trade studying for service

Northeastern’s annual Alternative Spring Break programs provide students the opportunity to get out of their comfort zones by volunteering in far-flung parts of the world. Though they’re expected to work long, hard hours, the experiences they gain and the friendships they forge are more than worth the sacrifices they make.

In fact, students such as Nicole Ciulla, SSH’14, describe ASB as one of the most valuable experiential learning opportunities Northeastern offers. Cuilla, who will graduate in May with a criminal justice degree, wants the entire community to know that it’s never too late to participate in an ASB trip.

This year, she was one of 175 students who par­tic­i­pated in com­mu­nity ser­vice projects across the U.S. and in four other coun­tries. Their work ranged from caring from homeless animals in Utah to building clean water infrastructure in Ecuador.

“Not only was I able to help others through service, which I love doing, but I was able to learn a lot about myself. In fact, being older allowed me to appreciate and experience the trip differently,” Ciulla said. “It has influenced the types of jobs I would enjoy and the type of life I want to live. I feel the rewards I gained from the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

She was one of 11 students who volunteered at the Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children, a Killeen, Texas-based organization that provides fun day camp experiences for kids with special needs. The organization was established in 1984 as a fishing day retreat for chronically ill children. Today, it offers weeklong summer retreats for more than 5,000 children with chronic illnesses, their families, and their treatment providers. The organization serves children and adults ages 2-22 with medical conditions including autism, blindness, cancer, cerebral palsy, neurological disorders, and asthma.

2014 marked the seventh year that Northeastern volunteers have worked with PKRC. They helped by assisting classes and retreats; gardening, cleaning, and landscaping the property; and pitching in to help with other on-site projects aimed at enhancing retreat programs and beautifying the grounds.

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Students who worked at the day camp saw ASB as an opportunity to forge a career path. Melissa Jacques, S’17, plans to attend graduate school to become a school psychologist, but first wanted to experience working directly with children with developmental disabilities. From volunteering with PKRC, she learned just how inspiring this population is and is excited to expand on the experience through her career.

“I knew that I had to test out if I could work with kids with special needs and I decided Peaceable Kingdom would be my test,” Jacques explained. “I ended up loving it more than I thought I would. I witnessed kids who couldn’t say a word walk on low-ropes courses with fear in their eyes, but they pushed through. I learned from that I could not only do this, but that I absolutely want to.”