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Students plan volunteerism

Hundreds of college students are planning to help disaster survivors.


Hundreds of college students around the country are currently planning their spring breaks around something other than drinking or lounging on a beach - and one college dean said that is common in this generation of students.

Greg Kneser, dean of students at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, said he expects close to 200 of his university's students to take part in the "What a Relief!" spring break program offered by Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR). The program aims to get college students down to the Gulf Coast during their spring breaks to assist in the recovery after the 2005 hurricane season.

"I think students have a bend towards service and volunteerism - it's a natural outgrowth of the way they are and how they've been brought up," said Kneser. "It might be the most impressive thing about this generation; they think it's their responsibility to help. The students do it as a reaction - 'something bad happened and we have to help.' This generation is called to something bigger than themselves, and that's a neat thing."

The alternative spring break program was announced late in 2005 with the hopes of getting 1,000 students to participate in the spring of 2006. Michael Nevergall, LDR's associate for program interpretation, said he's been in touch with more than 60 colleges about the program, and the response has been excellent so far.

The "What a Relief!" spring break is expected to last for five weeks in February and March. Students will be working in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana doing whatever work is need.

Nevergall said the spring break program is a natural extension of LDR's overall mission to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. He said LDR is committed to the region's recovery for years.

For many of the schools, the spring break idea went along perfectly with programs already in place. "A lot of our Lutheran colleges and universities already do very concentrated programs in service learning and have alternative spring break trips each year," said Nevergall.

He added that he did similar alternative spring break work trips when he was in college. "I felt like I learned so much from it."

St. Olaf is no stranger to community service programs itself, where Kneser said the students frequently plan the trips themselves. This year's spring break is no different, with Kneser saying that students are planning almost every aspect of the Gulf Coast trip - even going along on a scouting trip late in February to plan out all the work the students will do when they arrive the last week of March.

"They're doing a remarkable job of organizing this," Kneser said.

The organizing process does not require much recruiting either, added St. Olaf College Pastor Rev. Bruce Benson. "Just letting people know it's there is about all it takes," he said.

Benson agreed with Kneser about the altruism of the students, adding that many also see the service as a chance to be viewed as more than just a number. "This is an opportunity to do good for someone else. They crave being known for and seen as something else besides grade point averages. This gives them the opportunity to do something for another person."

He added that offering a trip like this is something that goes along with St. Olaf's and most college's missions. "Part of St. Olaf's mission is to get students to think of their lives as not just being for themselves," explained Benson.

"You have your gifts and abilities to use for the good of the community and for the good of others. To provide a way for students to experience that is important to our mission. I think it's important for us to reinforce that this is a good and righteous thing for you to do with your life."

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