Students Gain Inspiration and Skills on Alternative Spring Break

BMCC students volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Dade City, Florida, while others attend a leadership conference in Chicago, all part of Alternative Spring Break.

April 26, 2017

The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Office of Student Activities facilitated two student trips in April for Alternative Spring Break.

One group of 27 BMCC students and three staff members — Melissa Aponte, Assistant Director of Student Activities and Leadership; Albert Lee, Student Life Coordinator and Wilfred Coto, Student Life Specialist for Veterans Services — traveled to Chicago from April 12 to 15 to attend the National Student Leadership Diversity Convention (NSLDC), explore the city and visit the DuSable Museum of African American History.

Another group of 18 BMCC students and two staff members — Nereida Montijo, Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Civic Responsibility, and Thierry Thesatus, Senior Career Advisor — traveled to Dade City, Florida from April 9 to 15, where they volunteered for Habitat for Humanity of East and Central Pasco Country, visited Busch Garden and toured the University of Tampa.

Dade City, Florida: Habitat for Humanity

“Counting both groups, this is the largest number of students BMCC has sent for Alternative Spring Break since its inception in 2013,” said Nereida Montijo, who accompanied the student group to Dade City, Florida along with Thierry Thesatus.

“By leaving New York City to build homes in Florida, the studentflaIMBED1.JPGs challenged themselves daily and went outside their comfort zone,” Montijo said. “It gave them an opportunity to really make an impact on the Dade City community and understand the value and significance of affordable housing. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them grow and serve with complete dedication and determination.”

Working alongside a Habitat for Humanity construction team, BMCC students learned how to use a sledgehammer, mini-tractor, electronic saw and drills. Within days, they helped raze an entire house to its base. They also took a trip to Busch Gardens, and toured the University of Tampa, where they spoke with admissions representatives.

“Signing up to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity was one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” said BMCC student Khadija Mirza, a Nursing major set to graduate in June 2017. “Returning home, I realized I had gained not only experience, but memories, lifelong friends and deep lessons. I learned useful skills, including team work and staying calm to problem solve. I will definitely be doing more volunteer work after this amazing experience.”

“From the unforgettable memories to the great friendships I made, this was by far the best trip I’ve been part of,” said BMCC Criminal Justice major José Vasquez. While building with Habitat for Humanity, he and other BMCC students made friends and played football with a ten-year-old from the neighborhood, Malakie, who presented to them as a going-away present, his well-worn football. To his surprise, the BMCC students had a new football ready to give him, as well.

“In addition to building houses for families in need, befriending and playing football with Malakie showed how much heart our BMCC students really have,” said Montijo. “This is a prime example of how one small act of kindness can make a huge impact.”

Chicago: National Student Leadership Diversity Convention

On the BMCC student trip to Chicago, BMCC students attended the National Student Leadership Diversity Convention (NSLDC). “Student leaders had the opportunity to network with each other and with students from across the nation,” said Melissa Aponte, who chaperoned the group with her BMCC colleagues Wilfred Coto and Albert Lee.

The NSLDC brings together hundreds of college students from across the country to address critical issues relevant to today’s campuses, Aponte said. “Our students were invigorated by this experience and they hope to bring back what they learned in Chicago to help improve the BMCC student experience here in New York City.”

The students also visited the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago’s Hyde Park area.

“This trip inspired me to learn more about the diversity that we represent on campus and in life,” says BMCC Early Childhood Education major Leslie Romero. “The museum was eye-opening and the conference was a great opportunity to share experiences with other student leaders from across the country, to realize that we have more in common than we think, regardless of our cultures, ethnicity, gender and other differences.”

“The trip was amazing, especially being able to get away from New York and experience a different culture and environment,” says BMCC Student Government President Jason Silva. “Many people feel we should travel to different countries to experience other cultures, but we have our own right here.”

Alternative Spring Break: An expanding tradition

Over the years, the Alternative Spring Break at BMCC has grown to include trips not only to Florida and Chicago but also New Orleans, North Carolina, Oklahoma and other locations where students participated in disaster relief, affordable home construction, college visits and cultural activities.

According to Harry Mars, Director of Student Activities, students who take part in Alternative Spring Break can list those experiences in their Co-Curricular Transcript, which supplements their academic transcript and gives a more comprehensive picture of students’ strengths.

He also says the Office of Students Affairs and Office of Student Activities will be proposing additional service breaks in the next few years, including an Alternative Winter Break, an Alternative Summer Break and a Summer Service Abroad trip.

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  • BMCC students travel to Chicago and Dade City, Florida for Alternative Spring Break
  • Chicago group attends National Student Leadership Diversity Convention and visits DuSable Museum of African American History
  • Florida group volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and tours University of Tampa

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