For Stony Brook Students, Community Service Doesn’t Stop for Spring Break
A 26-hour bus ride, Porta Potties, sunburn, and the ever-present scent of eau de oyster – is that any way to spend spring break? Ask any of the 35 Stony Brook students who traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi this spring to help restore land that had been pummeled by Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac, and you’ll get a resounding, “Yes!”
The group, all members of Alternative Spring Break Outreach (ASBO), and two trip advisors worked hand-in-hand with the Biloxi community and students from other colleges and universities to repair a barrier reef with oyster shells, create a play area for children in a botanical garden, and rebuild a storm-ravaged house.
ASBO is a student-run community service organization that sends students around the nation to work on environmental restoration projects alongside community members. This year ASBO offered two trips, one to Biloxi and the other to New Orleans. Between 80 and 84 Stony Brook students sign up for these immersion trips each year.
“Out of all the different things I’ve done on campus, ASBO is my favorite,” says Aimee Pomeroy, a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences who graduated last month. “This was my second trip. I had such a wonderful experience last year that I wanted to do it again."
“It’s a very humbling experience. You take for granted how you live here, so when you go to another place, it’s eye opening. In Biloxi, there were a lot of parallels with Superstorm Sandy, which had just happened a few months before. That was so fresh in our minds that we were really sympathetic to their situation.”
There was – literally – a mountain of work awaiting the students. On their first day the group came face to face with a pile of oyster shells several stories high. Their task: to help repair a badly eroded barrier reef by stuffing oyster shells into bags made of chicken wire and sinking them into the Gulf, near the shoreline. Working with marine biologists and the mayor of Biloxi, the Stony Brook students sank more than 1,400 bags of oyster shells.
“Everyone was very welcoming and friendly and appreciative of our help,” says Islip native Aimee, who also volunteers as an EMT in Port Jefferson. “The culture there is very different from up here, so when we were on the work site, a lot of the men from Mississippi kept saying, ‘Don’t strain yourself,’ and the women from Stony Brook were like, ‘Oh, no, we’re down here to work, we want to get dirty, we want to be sunburned.’”
The students stayed on a campsite for five days, gathering each evening with the students from the other schools for reflections on the day. At the end of the week, they piled back on the bus for the 26-hour drive home. According to Aimee, the bus ride is one of her favorite parts of the experience because of the intense bonding and friendship that develops from working together so closely.
The ASBO trip advisors include Christine Noonan, Coordinator of Evening and Weekend Programs in the department of Student Activities and program advisor to the group; Cathrine Duffy, Staff Assistant to the Dean of Students; Lakshmi Ramsoondar, from the Center for Academic Advising and faculty/staff advisor to the group, and Shannon Jayne, Assistant Director for Student Life and Leadership.
Says Shannon, “Each year, we hope that our students learn more about the people they are serving and understand the positive impact one can have on a community through service. During the trip, many students develop a deep passion for service and build a strong network of individuals who share their passion.”
Aimee agrees. “The best part of the trip is realizing the importance of being a part of something bigger than the individual, while also realizing the impact one person can make. It’s so gratifying.”
By Toby Speed