Student groups seek funds for alternative spring break trips

While students who opt for “alternative,” or service-oriented, spring break trips have vastly different experiences from their counterparts who choose stereotypical sun-and-surf jaunts, they face similar budgeting headaches. This year the funding committee, responsible for allocating money for such trips, received 14 applications requesting a total of $65,000 for an expected attendance of 101 students. However, only $14,900 was available through the Center for Community Engagement.

Organizers of the College’s alternative spring break service trips had the opportunity to apply for subsidies from the Center for Community Engagement earlier this month. The Center’s pool of funds came from an endowed account from the Class of 1949, the Lehman Council and contributions from the Dean’s Office and the Gaudino Fund.

The applications covered a wide variety of trips, ranging from organizations that expected dozens of students to teams of one or two who wished to work abroad.

The allocation committee comprised Tim Leonard, Campus Life coordinator, Rick Spalding, chaplain to the College and coordinator of community service, Kendell Newman ’08 and Hnin Hnin ’10, who sit on the Lehman Board for Community Engagement.

Ultimately, seven groups with an expected attendance of 80 students, were provided with subsidies. “Obviously, we can’t fund all the trips,” Leonard said.

The subsidies provided from the Center for Community Engagement do not fully cover any one student’s cost of a service trip. As noted on the application, “As a matter of policy, the Center for Community Engagement requires all student participants in Spring Break service trips to make at least some personal financial commitment to the trip.”

Bob Scherr, the Jewish Chaplain, is leading the Williams College Jewish Association on a trip to New Orleans. He echoed the Center’s stance on responsibility. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to say ‘I’m going to be a do-gooder for a week’ and then expect the College to pay for it.” He asserted that financial responsibility is an important part of preparation for such service-based projects.

After three years of organizing the trip to New Orleans, Scherr chose to limit the number of students he would take this year, rather than doubling the size of the team, as he was not sure that he would receive twice as many funds.

Student response to the funding is varied. Some groups have opted for cost-cutting measures to mitigate the shortfall. Two members of Thursday Night Group will be participating in Mountain Justice Spring Break 2008, a program which brings awareness to communities about the effects of mountain top removal and coal industry abuse. In order to cut down on costs, one member is carpooling from West Virginia to Ohio

Helen Cha ’11 of Purple Valley Films said that the group received less than they had hoped for their New Orleans trip, but was grateful for what they received. “We’re a brand new club that started this fall. I saw the application, but I was worried we wouldn’t get anything,” Cha said.

In order to make up the deficit, Purple Valley Films has asked Images Cinema to donate gift certificates to be offered as prizes in a raffle.

The Williams Christian Fellowship is looking to raise another $5000 before its hurricane relief trip to New Orleans. “It’s going to be harder than it was in past years,” said Ben Kolesar ’08, one of the organizers. “I know that we’ve gotten pretty much everything in the past but this year we got a lot less than we had hoped for. But we can’t blame the College for that.”

Kolesar noted that it was difficult to find funding, especially with the sudden explosion of interest in the trip. The program fee is approximately $450 per person; students are asked to contribute $100 each.

The Hurricane Relief Coalition (HRC) to New Orleans is being led by Caralyn Quan ’08 and Denise McCulloch ’08, who had requested $7000 from the Center for Community Engagement. The total cost of the trip is $16,000, the majority of which is due to transportation to New Orleans and food. Although they received $6000 from the Center and are asking participants to contribute $50 as well as the cost of returning from New Orleans, the group is still short of its goal.

In order to make up the deficit, the HRC has run several 50/50 raffles at men’s and women’s ice hockey games, bake sales and a letter-writing campaign. They will also be throwing a benefit concert. “I think that it’s been good for the group that we were sort of forced into running fundraising activities,” Quan said. “We’ll appreciate the trip much more having had to work for it.”