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Alt Spring Break Club Immerses Itself in Lowell

Students Spend Vacation Volunteering

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Members of UMass Lowell’s Alternative Spring Break Club do some painting at the historic Pawtucket Congregational Church as part of the Lowell Immersion community service project.

By Jill Gambon

Savannah Marshall learned a lot over spring break: How to paint a room, how to find Lowell’s Belvidere neighborhood and where to get the best deal on fried chicken near campus.

But perhaps the most important thing she learned is that small acts can lead to big changes.

“You don’t always have to make an enormous effort to change the world. Simple things can make a huge difference,” said Marshall, who spent her vacation week participating in the Alternative Spring Break Club’s Lowell Immersion project.

Marshall, a junior majoring in music education and psychology, was one of five UMass Lowell students who spent the week helping out local non-profits, meeting community leaders and learning about the city. “I had never been involved in community service before and this has been better than I expected,” said Marshall. “I have lived in Lowell for two years and I thought I knew the city. I didn’t. I’ve been missing out.” 

They traveled to Boston to help out at Community Servings, a not-for-profit that provides nutritious meals to people coping with serious illnesses.

The week’s activities were coordinated by Sarah Pike, a program associate for the Massachusetts Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities that promotes community service and civic engagement.

“I’m trying to show the students that being engaged in the community is a lifelong value,” said Pike. “You can incorporate your passion for service into your daily life.”

The students camped out for the week at the historic Pawtucket Congregational Church, sharing meals and planning their activities together. To thank the church, which also hosted the Lowell Immersion group last spring, the students did some painting inside the building.

Junior Becca Walsh has participated in alternative spring break projects since she was a freshman and said the experience has opened her eyes to the needs of the community. “It changed my life. I feel like I’m a part of the community now,” said Walsh, a junior majoring in psychology and sociology.

UMass Lowell students are devoting more time to community service than ever, with the number of hours recorded doubling over the past year from 50,000 to 100,000. The University was recently named to the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, a prestigious recognition for colleges and universities committed to volunteering, service-learning and community engagement.

“Before this week, I thought Lowell was North Campus, South Campus, East Campus and the ICC (the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center ),” she said. “Now I see there’s so much here.”

Working with the community organizations and getting out into Lowell’s neighborhoods has also deepened Copson’s appreciation for the city. “It gives you insight into the community. It changes your view from ‘this is the city where I go to school’ to ‘this is the city where I live,’” he said.