GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Dozens of college students are spending their time off from school here in South Mississippi hard at work. The students are doing various community service projects as part of the United Way's Alternative Spring Break program. The students said they are hoping for the kind of learning experience they can't get in a classroom.
By the time the volunteers finish painting the walls and cabinets at the Salvation Army in Gulfport, University of Iowa student Dylan Manternach expects to have developed into an impressive handy man.
"Some really good knowledge of hands on work kind of thing, like painting and things like that," said Manternach.
The 25 college students are also taking on projects for the Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and Lynn Meadows Discovery Center as part of Alternative Spring Break. The volunteers came from across the country and wanted the challenge of learning to work as a team with people they don't know.
Madeline Rocco is a college student from California.
"It's a little nerve racking at first because I'm a pretty shy person, but I find once you start getting more used to the environment and start talking to people, it becomes a lot easier and it becomes really cool to learn about people from all over the United States," said Rocco.
The students say lessons learned now could be beneficial in their future careers.
"What it does for me is it gives me the most intimate and personal experience of a part of the world, a part of my own country that I would have never known," said Eric Dolan of William Patterson University in New Jersey. "I get to put faces to stories. That's the most valuable thing I can do as a journalist or wanting to be a journalist."
Although many of their friends are relaxing for Spring Break, these students prefer the alternative.
"This is sort of nitty-gritty making a difference sort of thing to make you feel better," said Manternach.
The students said this week will be the start of some lifelong friendships. Volunteers from AmeriCorps and Climb Community Development Corporation worked alongside the United Way volunteers at some of the sites.