Islander Students on Alternative Winter Break Serve Coastal Communities Ravaged by Hurricane Harvey

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Alternative Winter Break

Each year, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi students embark on an Alternative Winter Break, a five-day service-learning excursion at locations through the US, where they engage in direct service while learning about a local humanitarian issue before the start of spring semester. This year, because the need for help was so close to home, the group of approximately 20 Islander students spent their winter break (Jan. 10-14) in Rockport and surrounding coastal communities, helping residents recover from the effects of Hurricane Harvey by cleaning up debris, disposing of damaged items and rebuilding structures.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Each year, before the start of the spring semester, the spirit of collaboration and love of community motivates Islander students to embark on an “Alternative Winter Break,” a week-long excursion where they engage in direct service while learning about a local humanitarian issue. Past locations have included San Antonio, McAllen, Beaumont, St. Louis, Spring, Tennessee and Tuscon, Arizona. This year, because the need for help was so close to home, students decided to volunteer their services in the coastal communities of Rockport, Port Aransas and Aransas Pass, which were recently ravaged by Hurricane Harvey.

“Each year we choose a new theme for our alternative breaks, and design our hands-on service opportunities and experiential learning around that specific social issue,” said Samantha De Melim, coordinator of student activities at the University Center, and lead staff organizer of both Alternative Winter Break and Alternative Spring Break programs. “After witnessing the devastating impacts of Harvey across the Texas Gulf Coast and seeing the sense of urgency in our students to help their surrounding neighbors, it was only fitting that we chose to focus our efforts on disaster recovery and rebuilding.”

The Island University worked in partnership with “All Hands and Hearts: Smart Response,” located in Aransas Pass, to clean up debris, dispose of damaged items and rebuild structures.

“Something that surprised me was the emotional ambiance of throwing away stuffed animals or a nice China set because those are things people cherished,” said Ashlynne Gooch, a senior marketing major at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “You re-evaluate the value of sentimental things.”

In addition to helping residents and organizations clean up and rebuild structures, Alternative Winter Break volunteers also made a positive impact through volunteering at the Rockport Humane Society, and at Camp Aranzazu, a therapeutic recreational camp located in Rockport for children and adults with special needs and chronic illnesses.

“Harvey affected homes and tourism in Rockport and surrounding areas, and by coming here we are helping our neighbors get back on their feet,” said Megan Greige, an Islander nursing student who also helped coordinate the trip. “They have been so appreciative. They give us hugs, food and love and support as we help them rebuild.”

The effects of the storm were unevenly felt across communities in Texas, with Rockport and Coastal Bend areas hit disproportionately harder than other cities. Several months after the storm hit, Harvey victims are still struggling to get the help they need to recover.

“You see things on TV and media, and you don’t think twice about it, but it’s different when you are here and actually experience it,” shared Grant Kendall, an Islander communication major. “It’s definitely a sight to see and something I will never forget.”

The Island University also offers Alternative Spring Break, an opportunity for all Islander students who want to learn about a humanitarian issue and want to serve the community. This year the Student Volunteer Connection is collaborating with the Recreational Sports Outdoor Adventure program to offer two different Alternative Spring Break locations. While both trips will be focused on the same theme of disaster recovery, they will approach the issue from different perspectives and geographical locations.

 “We are thrilled to be able to offer a second Alternative Spring Break location this year,” said De Melim. “The more students that we are able to engage in this program, the greater the Islander impact we will be able to have on our surrounding communities and beyond.”