Students Take an International Alternative Break

Members of Alternative Breaks @ Cazenovia build a home in Dominican Republic.

Last spring, 10 Cazenovia College students traveled to the Dominican Republic, where they built a house for a family affiliated with Village Mountain Mission (VMM) in Luperon. The trip, the first ever international trip for the College's Alternative Breaks @ Cazenovia (ABC) Program, was the inspiration of Cazenovia alumna Loryn Pinney '06, who started the VMM C.A.R.E. Project, a preschool for local children after a number of years as a project leader there.

Pinney, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography at Cazenovia, was working as head teacher for three-year-olds at the Madison Learning Center, in Madison, Connecticut. She was also the senior assistant leader of the senior youth group at her church. In 2008 she escorted the youth group to the VMM to help build a house. She returned the following summer, when talk of starting a school to serve nearby villages first began. In 2010 she spent the summer observing the culture and the school system. In February 2011, she returned and began teaching anyone who was willing to learn. The following August, the VMM opened the childhood development center where Pinney now teaches preschool children from the surrounding villages.

After her summer of observation in 2010, Pinney, a former ABC member, visited Cazenovia and stopped to say hello to Katie O'Brien, associate dean for leadership and engagement, the group's adviser, to tell her about the VMM, and suggest it as a destination for an alternative break. After discussion that spanned an entire semester, the group set the date of the trip for spring break 2012.

The Dominican Republic is the second largest nation in the Caribbean, sharing the Island of Hispaniola with Haiti. In spite of a rosy economic climate for business, much of the island's population lives in poverty. The ABC students gave up the traditional pleasures of spring break to live for a week without housing, electricity, or running water. They slept in hammocks under a shelter provided by VMM, and their diet consisted primarily of the same rice and beans available to the local residents.

Human services major Maryellen A. Egri '12, of Middletown, Connecticut, was a senior when she made the trip. She is an experienced member of the ABC Program who played a large part in planning the trip. She was surprised that in spite of their daily struggles, "the people we were helping have high spirits and happiness about life. People knew who we were, the mission group we were with and that we were helping their community. They shared so many smiles, and they would have done anything to protect us if they knew we were in harm's way. That really meant a lot to me because we only knew these people for a few days and they considered us family."

She says that there is no comparison between a hard day in her life in the United States, and the average day for a citizen of the Dominican Republic. She says, "Some of the people in the communities we helped only had one pair of shoes, and some children did not have any; some children wore the same shirt for the entire week we stayed there. These little things made me realize how much we take for granted. I believe that many people in our society need to experience trips like this that give you a different outlook on your own life and the way other people live."

Other students who were members of the group were: Ashley L. Crider '12, of Lake Clear, New York, international studies; senior Hilary Hext, of Cohoes, New York, business; Kerry A. MacHugh '12, of Tivoli, New York, visual communications; sophomore Christy Martinez, of New York, New York, criminal justice and homeland security studies; senior Megan E. McDermott, of Greene, New York, human services; Sally J. Powis '12, of Manlius, New York, psychology; Shana L. Ralston '12, of Smyrna, New York, fashion design; junior Tramaine D. Rogers, of Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, criminal justice and homeland security studies; and junior Samantha Young, of East Hampton, New York, communication studies.