PLATTSBURGH - It's not always about fun and sun when students going on spring break.
Dr. Colin L. Read, professor of economics and finance at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, has found more and more students are interested in an initiative he established locally called the "Alternative Spring Break."
It was last year when Read and his daughter - then a high school student - traveled to Louisiana during her school's mid-winter recess. The two were part of a group helping communities still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.
"We came back up and I saw a letter to the editor in the Press-Republican asking why people spend all this money going to other communities to fix them up when there are plenty of needs right here," said Read.
When Read sat back and thought about the cost of airfare and other travel arrangements necessary to do volunteer work out of the area, he said the person who wrote the letter had "a pretty good point."
"Just imagine if people in Louisiana would've used some of that money to fix up their places and we used some of that money to fix up places up here," Read said. "We could've probably done a lot more good with that money."
That motivated Read to establish the Alternative Spring Break, giving students - and anyone else for that matter - a chance to do volunteer work in the community, specifically focusing on helping senior citizens.
"I even mentioned it to the local Rotary Club at a meeting and the next thing you know, I've got like six or eight of them volunteering," said Read. "So, all kinds of people end up coming together to help organize this."
Read said another important part to making the three-day event happen was coordinating with Maria Alexander, executive director of the Senior Citizens Council of Clinton County. Alexander reached out to seniors to see if any were in need of assistance through the project. And, there was no shortage of people, said Alexander.
"There are so many people in Clinton County who need help with this kind of work," she said. "And, they're proud, so they don't necessarily want to ask for it."
Alexander said it was especially great to see the students connect with seniors, bridging the generation gap through simple acts of kindness like painting, fixing doors and cleaning up yards.
"I think it's great they brought the college kids in because it shows they care about the community as well," she said.
Walter Mitchell agreed. While many projects were in Plattsburgh, the volunteers even visited outer communities like the town of Peru, helping people like Mitchell, who was touched by the volunteers' help.
"I appreciated it, of course," said Mitchell, "because there's always something to be done around here."
Volunteers installed two doors for Mitchell in his home, which was something the 87-year-old said saved him from having to do it himself.
Read said being able to help people like Mitchell is what makes the whole Alternative Spring Break worthwhile.
"Many elderly people really have a hard time keeping up with some of the general repairs," said Read. "They've even told us horror stories about trying to hire people out to help them do these things and not getting the job done properly. It can be very expensive for them and they really can't afford that kind of thing."
"It's really rewarding to help them and to see just how willing people are [to help]," added Read.
This year's Alternative Spring Break will be offered Monday, March 15, through Wednesday, March 17. Read said he's looking for volunteers as well as elderly people in the community who need help with odd jobs. Read may be reached at 561-3828 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We're not really set up to be able to get up on people's houses and replace their roofs, but if it's something people think students and other volunteers could do in a day or two, we'd love to help them," said Read.