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Redbirds provide hurricane relief during spring break

People painting building

Redbird volunteers patch up a North Carolina building damaged by Hurricane Florence during an Alternative Spring Break.

Editor’s note: Opportunities to participate in civic engagement activities are a core part of student life at Illinois State. Alternative Spring Break has been one way outreach is accomplished, with groups of students traveling to volunteer in various parts of the country during the March break from classes. This year teams left prior to travel restrictions enforced as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Itineraries were changed and trips cut short in order to get students back to campus safely. These stories are shared as an uplifting reminder of how Redbirds collaborate and care for each other.

North Carolina’s Palmico County was devastated by Hurricane Florence in September of 2018. The area is still struggling to rebuild. A group of Redbirds used their spring break to help with those efforts.

“The difference we made was especially noticeable with the individual homeowners,” said senior accounting major Allison Leczycki. “They have been living in their damaged homes for so long without the ability to renovate or move away. I was so incredibly glad that we were able to extend a helping hand to them.”

Leczycki led the group of 39 students and three staff members during the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip. The student-led program is offered through Illinois State’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CESL), which offers students the opportunity to learn about social issues and serve communities during school breaks.

The ASB trip to North Carolina was set up in partnership with Illinois State’s Honors Program. Honors Program Coordinator Amy Secretan is an advisor for the group. “ASB is absolutely a holistic representation of the core values of the Honors Program,” she said, “and it’s one of our most popular learning experiences year after year.”

The group completed approximately 1,344 hours of service that involved primarily construction work ranging from painting and installing floorboards to stabilizing roofing.

Reggie Redbird and a drill

Students helping with Hurricane Florence cleanup in North Carolina had a familiar face to cheer them on all week.

“We got the opportunity to work with so many community partners, really getting to know the area and the people we were working with,” Leczycki said. Participants worked with Craven County Habitat for Humanity, Fuller Center Disaster Rebuilders, Pamlico County Heritage Center, Pamlico County Parks and Recreation Department, and Camp Don Lee.

The personal interactions were important to all involved, including senior marketing analytics major Oliv Er Phreykz. “Being able to talk with the owner of a disaster-afflicted home when we were serving with the Fuller Center for Housing was very memorable,” Phreykz said. “He had gone through many hardships in his life, and he was currently taking care of 13 cats. It was very rewarding to paint his house his favorite shade of blue.”

The group was in North Carolina when the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread and the decision was made to extend the break for a week.

“Besides the logistical changes it made to our trip, the atmosphere and the vibe was almost exactly the same,” Leczycki said. “Our participants decided to make the most out of our situation and still go into service and nightly activities with an open mind. Everyone came back to ISU healthy, but also incredibly happy. Not even a global pandemic could hurt the AB spirit!”

“I feel so lucky that ISU is an institution that places such a high value on civic engagement and service learning because through trips like ASB it really shows that we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk,” Secretan said.

“Particularly for the Honors Program, I think it’s very important that we use our position to make a difference in communities near and far, to fight for equality and inclusion, and to do our part to help others in every way we can. With the support of ISU and CESL, we are able to try and do those things every year. That’s really amazing.”