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USC : Spring Break Takes on a New Meaning

April 04, 1993|ELSTON CARR

Spring break is not for drinking beer and cruising the streets of Palm Springs anymore.

At least, not for a group of 71 USC students who have opted to spend a week living in a local homeless shelter, helping children at Norwood Elementary School plant trees and visiting a Navajo reservation to help build housing under an "alternative spring break" program.

Though many of the students had opportunities to take ski trips or vacations abroad, they preferred to do service work in a surrounding community that many admitted they know little about.

John Tamura, a sophomore who is one of 11 students who stayed in Los Angeles to perform community work, said doing volunteer work in local schools has changed his perception of the USC area.

"When I first came to Los Angeles (from Honolulu), I looked at the area and thought, 'Oh my God, this is terrible.' I'm not used to seeing such a large desolate area," he said. "I'm more receptive now. I listen to people."

The program began in 1990 with a student trip to a Navajo reservation in Wyoming. That exercise this year included 60 participants who helped paint and construct housing. Martin Gonzalez, the program coordinator and a USC graduate student, said the program coordinators this year decided to include local community service at the behest of students who wanted to spend their break working on behalf of area residents.

As part of the program, which started Monday and ended Saturday, 11 students lived at the Sunshine Mission for Women on Hoover Street. Each day, they went out to work on a variety community improvement projects, including painting 10 examination rooms at the St. John's Well Child Center at Flower Street and Adams Boulevard, and planting trees at nearby Norwood Elementary School.

"Today it was a good day because we weren't in class," said Roberto Nunez, a sixth-grader who participated in the tree-planting and clean-up effort. "We plant plants because it makes the school better and nice and beautiful."

The students were chosen from a pool of 200 applicants for the Los Angeles and Wyoming programs. The programs are funded by student fees and private donations, including a recent $10,000 grant from the Arco Foundation that Gonzalez said will help endow the program and offset expenses for future spring break trips.

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