College spring break is usually about parties and over-indulgence, but for 22 students from Howard University who arrived on St. Thomas March 9, Spring Break was spent completing community service projects around the island.
The projects included fixing fences at basketball courts, assembling hurricane preparation packets with the American Red Cross of the V.I., speaking to students of Charlotte Amalie High School, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, Ulla Muller Elementary, and Addelita Cancryn Junior High, and additional volunteering done with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Sports.
Support came from American Legion Post 90 & Auxiliary, St. Thomas Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Office of Senator Marvin Blyden, the Office of Senator Athniel “Bobby” Thomas, the Office of the St. Thomas Administrator, Allison “Allie” Petrus, Chef Walker of Walkers by the Sea, the St. Thomas Alumnae of Howard University, Jalani Horton, John Engerman, and Love of Christ Fellowship Center.
The Howard students took part in the opportunity through their university’s Alternative Spring Break program. Universities throughout the nation, including the University of the Virgin Islands, engage in similar programs that counter customary spring break trips by offering meaningful community service projects for students to participate in.
“It was collaborative project,” said Vilma Wallace, the on-island coordinator for the group. “The opportunity to work with the ASB Howard coordinators and the local community was exciting. Many of the students experiences will remain with them for a lifetime.”
Wallace has experience in organizing community service projects on St. Thomas and in Atlanta, Georgia, and most recently organized a Day of Service at the American Legion Hall in January.
In between the service projects, the students enjoyed a trip to Coral World, received robust tours of St. Thomas, UVI, and the Legislature building, and were immersed in local culture. On March 15 the group attended the Social Studies Fairheld in Emancipation Garden, and several students participated in a demonstration of Quadrille.
Participant and Howard professor Victoria Walker reflected fondly upon the trip. Walker conducts lectures on journalism at the university and the ASB trip was her first time in the territory. When asked if she would consider returning she remarked, “Absolutely, in a heartbeat.”
“I most enjoyed working with the Red Cross and seeing how they produced hurricane preparation packets and learning about the work they do on the island,” Walker said.
The trip also gave the attendees an opportunity to compare the conditions of their university and surrounding communities with those on St. Thomas. Both Howard and UVI are Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and were able to connect over shared experiences. The differing experiences of studying and working in Washington D.C., where Howard is located, illuminated some eye-opening revelations for the participants.
“The cost of living is on par with cities like D.C.” Walker said.
The group capped off the week of service and cultural explorationwith a collaborative event on Brewer’s Beach with UVI’s Student Government Association on March 16. The students had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences as a group, meet with UVI students, and enjoy their final day on the beach. Gov. Albert Bryan and members of his staff also stopped by to share some words of encouragement.
“Thank you for coming. You are always welcome here in the Virgin Islands, and do please come back” Bryan said.