Spring Break dedicated to service showed value of helping others

Going into Alternative Spring Break, I figured I would spend a week out in the wilderness working, sleeping and regretting my decision to go, as I really needed to catch up on a great deal of work. I didn’t expect it to be the “life-changing experience” that was advertised.

I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Sure, we did a lot of work at many different places around Maryville, Tenn., the area where we stayed. And all the while, I dreaded not having a week to catch up on some of the things I needed to do. But I walked away with an enhanced sense of work ethic, a more positive outlook on life and a new set of friends from a totally different circle than I am familiar with.

Over the course of the week, we cleared out trails, helped build foundations for bridges (literally and figuratively), canned applesauce, cleaned up a campsite, and visited a senior citizens center and a child development center. For the community service activities with the senior citizens and the children, the group split and went to two different locations, but we all seemed to enjoy the arts and crafts with the senior citizens and the energetic playtime with the children.

On the personal level, we shared bunkhouses, outhouses, stories and opinions, and we became closer as UK students and as friends with the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis students — an additional learning experience to our immersion in the Cherokee community. Another educational cultural experience was at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, where we were told the story and history of the genius creator of the Cherokee syllabary, which was the main form of the Cherokee written language.

One of the big topics between the group was sustainable development, a topic that I had not really given much consideration. While I don’t plan on giving up eating meat any time soon, I learned to appreciate the sentiment that looks for more organic and environmentally friendly development.

On the last day of our trip one of our hosts, Ed Decker of Once Upon a Time in Appalachia, made a comment to the effect that if they put stories on the news about students like us doing trips like Alternative Spring Break, the world would be a better place.

But I think the world is a better place because Ed and his wife, Arleen, took in a bunch of students who sincerely wanted to help out with a situation — even if it was only for a week. What we and the other Alternative Spring Break participants did will start opening up various communities to having students come in and help.

It takes a lot to bring complete strangers into your home, feed them and teach them how to do work many of them have never done. From that I learned so much about patience with people and working with the good spirit that lies within most people, instead of making presumptions about one’s character based on differences of any kind.

Given the chance, a sincere individual will do the right thing; it just needs to be coaxed out one way or another. For some it’s an Alternative Spring Break; for others, it’s volunteering at a local school or spending time helping with an extracurricular organization.

Whatever it may be, stay active and do your part to give back. What I learned most of all was that the world needs help from sincere people, and the appreciation from those who you help truly is a life-changing experience.

Wesley Robinson is a Spanish and journalism junior. E-mail opinions@