Spring break proved to be no vacation for some University students, including biology freshman Brianna Rogers and kinesiology junior Wilani Porter, who traded in a week at the beach for an opportunity to serve others via LSU’s Service Breaks program.
Porter led her team volunteering at an organization called “Give Kids the World,” a nonprofit resort located in Central Florida providing week-long, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The resort offers complimentary transportation, housing accommodations, food and donated admissions tickets to local attractions such as Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando Resort. Children participating in the program are also given a special badge granting them access to shorter lines at many parks.
The LSU Service Break Experience offers University students the opportunity to travel across the globe while helping out various non-profit organizations. Trips take place annually over spring and summer breaks, with summer trips typically lasting about 14 days and the spring break trips lasting eight. For most University students, an eight-day volunteer trip may seem like an exhausting prospect, especially in years like this one where spring break fell directly before the University’s concentrated study period and exam week. Pierre and Wilani, however, were not deterred from their mission to help children in need.
Some of the volunteer duties included operating rides, delivering and serving food, driving the park shuttle and just being a friendly face for the children and the families. For Wilani, getting to know the other volunteers as well as the children and their families was one of the best parts of the trip.
“One of my favorite parts was seeing how happy the kids were when they realized they were able to ride all the rides no matter their illness or disability,” Porter said. “And also my whole team becoming friends even though we didn’t really know each other before the trip.”
Porter applied to be a team leader after having a great experience as a team member for a service trip in Homestead, Florida, during spring break 2018. As a team leader, she was responsible for making sure everyone on her team had an enjoyable experience and felt comfortable.
Rogers decided to become a first-time participant in the LSU Service Breaks program after coming across its website in search of a meaningful spring break. Then, she was able to talk to people who had previously gone on service trips and decided it was something she needed to experience. Rogers served as a member of Wilani’s team for the "Give Kids the World" program, and she said she plans on returning as many times as possible. One of the things Rogers found most inspiring was the sense of normalcy it provided children and families in their otherwise stressful lives.
“Families who never thought their child would be able to experience the same vacation as normal children are able to relax and see their kids truly happy,” Rogers said. “It’s honestly it’s own little world.”
Rogers said her favorite thing about the "Give Kids the World" village resort was a castle where the ceiling is covered the names of every child who has ever visited written on stars. Families traditionally make it their goal to return every year to see their child’s star.
“One family could not stop thanking me because, without the volunteers, their child would have never had this experience,” Rogers said. “Up until that point, I didn’t see the value in the work I was doing, but simply knowing that I can create a memory for a family that might not have much longer together meant the world to me.”
"Give Kids the World" was founded by Belgian Holocaust survivor Henri Landwirth, who became a hotel manager in the Orlando area. Landwirth was asked to provide a complimentary stay for a young girl named Amy with leukemia, but unfortunately her travel plans took too long to arrange and Amy passed away before she ever got to visit Orlando’s theme parks. The unfulfilled wish inspired Landwirth to create an organization providing families with quick travel arrangements while never turning any child away, according to the "Give Kids the World" Website.
Rogers said the feeling she gets from being able to assist the program's goal is unmatched.
“No matter what happens in my busy college life, I know I have the power to impact lives,” Rogers said. “So why not use that power each and every spring break?”
The LSU Service Break Experience website encourages all students to apply, even if they are concerned about financial barriers. There are opportunities to raise money through fundraisers and crowdsourcing websites, and scholarships through Campus Life are also available. Wilani also encourages fellow University students to consider skipping their typical vacation plans and opt for something a little different.
“There’s always going to be a party and a beach trip to go,” Porter said. “But service trips may have a drastic influence on someone’s life.”