My Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans – A Rewarding and Unforgettable Experience

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

By Tim Inthavong*

My fellow CU volunteers and I while working with Common Ground Relief

There are significant moments that change a person’s life and how they view the world, and my Alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans was an unforgettable experience that I will remember forever. I am truly grateful to the Casey Feldman Foundation for funding my trip with a scholarship stipend which enabled me to volunteer to help a community and environment in need.

At the outset, my fellow volunteer students and I from the University of Colorado Boulder worked with the nonprofit, Common Ground Relief  headquartered in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Founded initially in 2005 to provide disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina, Common Ground has since revised it’s mission to reflect a forward-looking focus to restore and preserve Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. Wetlands are crucial to prevent flooding since they hold water much like a sponge, helping to keep river waters normal, and slowly releasing water when levels are low. In addition to many other benefits, the wetlands provide a habitat for a diverse group of wildlife.

After being introduced to the environmental issues affecting the Lower Ninth Ward community due to Hurricane Katrina, our group worked at a plant nursery where we watered and removed weeds from bull grasses that would be used to restore the wetlands. My favorite and most rewarding  experience was then actually planting the bull grasses onto the wetland floor.

In the wetlands where we worked to plant bull grasses

At first, I felt uncomfortable and was in fact, very nervous to physically plant them. I worried about the difficulty in moving through all of the thick algae and the uncertainty as to how deep I was swimming. I continued however, and planted the grasses. I felt great satisfaction afterwards in knowing that I had contributed to helping to restore the wetlands and mitigate the effects of a future hurricane on the people of New Orleans. The experience had another strong impact on me as well, in that it served as a learning opportunity.  I realized that it’s okay to be scared in a new and uncomfortable situation and that by proceeding in the face of it, I can conquer that fear.

My group also performed volunteer work at Crevasse 22, an indoor and outdoor art exhibit with an ecological theme.  It sits in a natural area of forests and marshes and contains a deep lake, created by a crevasse, or breach in the levee in 1922.  It is steps away from the Mississippi River and borders St. Bernard State Park. Our work there was to uproot and get rid of  invasive plants damaging the natural habitat of wildlife. This service that was done was the most difficult, but it was extremely rewarding to know that our work was supporting a safe environment for animals to live and grow their population. I thought of Casey Feldman and her love of animals and how my work there was made possible through the Foundation established in her memory. It was deeply gratifying knowing that I was honoring and continuing her legacy.

My Alternative Spring Break trip also afforded me the opportunity to create and build new relationships.  My group and I traveled together in a van for 40 hours round-trip from Boulder, Colorado and lived and worked together the entire week. I did not know any of my fellow volunteers when the trip began, but, by the end of the week, I had 15 close friends  –  David Ruin, Julia Book, Tyler Ennis, Danya Arie, Diantha McAllister, Elise Warnock, Emma Blanken, Feben Kassahun, Hiba Abdali, Jose Canizares, Julia Smith, Maggie Hearn, Marissa Kelly, Mohammed, Pujan Tandukar, Vladimir Brizuela. Without them, the service week would not have been as enriching an experience.

I came into this trip far from my community in Westminster, Colorado not knowing much about the environmental issues facing the people of New Orleans and it’s wildlife habitat. But, by at the end of the week, I had gained so much knowledge about the issues facing the people of Louisiana 12 years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

As I get older and look back at this trip, I can say “I really made in impact on others.”  It makes me smile to know that I made a difference through an experience that I was able to share with others. Above the clouds, I picture Casey Feldman smiling too.

On the site of Crevasse 22 where we worked to remove invasive species

In the forest at Crevasse 22

 

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*Tim Inthavong just completed his junior year at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is studying economics and business and would like to work  for a hospital as a health administrator after graduating. He is one of five children of a single refugee mother whom he has worked to support in and around his studies and volunteer work.

Scholarship Recipient, Adilene Marquez, Passionate About Social Justice Issues

Monday, December 4th, 2017

By Jaela Zellers*

Adilene Marquez

Adilene Marquez, a Colorado native and current University of Colorado (CU) Boulder senior, is a wonderful example of the social justice oriented students that The Casey Feldman Foundation is proud to sponsor through their Alternative Spring Break (ASB) scholarships. Despite having a major in psychology as well as two minors in business and leadership, Adilene has made it her mission to be as passionate about social justice issues as possible. Some of her more specific social justice interests include: immigration, racism, poverty, and repairing the criminal justice system. Throughout her college career, Adilene has been involved with the Latinx activist group Umas y Mecha, the CU Boulder Honor Code, as well as the McNeil and TRIO academic programs. Adilene’s genuine care for the well-being of others has shaped many of her academic and social successes.

Coming from a working-class background, Adilene has never let her family’s financial situation deter her from achieving her dreams and being a great activist. Prior to applying for the Alternative Spring Breaks Program, Adilene’s mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. While numerous treatments and surgeries left her family with a significant amount of debt and their own financial difficulties, Adilene’s passion to help others still inspired her to pursue the Alternative Spring Break Program in 2017. With the help of the Casey Feldman Scholarship, she was able to make that dream a reality.

During the Spring Break of 2017, Adilene, along with a few other dedicated CU students traveled to Tucson, Arizona to participate in the Alternative Spring Breaks trip that focused on Immigration Reform. With immigration policy reform being one of her most important social justice interests, she just knew that she was meant to go on this trip. During her week of service, Adilene was able to see first-hand how immigration policies in the United States have impacted communities that are not so different from her own. One element of the ASB experience that was truly memorable for Adilene was visiting the US-Mexico border where her group was able to see the actual location where so many men, women, and children have risked their lives to find a better future within our country.

Adilene is very interested in bringing more awareness to the challenges that underrepresented students like her face on a day-to-day basis on the CU Boulder campus and within the Boulder community. A natural-born leader, she says that “Social justice issues are very important to [her] and [she] has no problem with leading the movement that brings awareness to [those issues] and opens the eyes of some people”. Having previously volunteered in the hospital where her mother was treated for cancer, as well as with the Alternatives for Youth Program, which works to prepare at risk youth for going back to school with a positive attitude, Adilene is no stranger to service work. While enduring her own hardships in life, she has spent much of her free time improving the lives of others and making the world a better place. Adilene’s values, dedication, and positive-spirit are what make her not only a wonderful human being, but also someone who Casey would be proud to have continue her legacy.

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*Jaela Zellars is a junior at The University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in integrative physiology and double minoring in Spanish and Women and Gender Studies. She currently works as a Peer Mentor in the Multicultural Living and Learning Community as well as the Volunteer Resource Center at CU where she uses her position to get first-year students engaged in service work.

Scholarship Recipient Helps the Homeless in Seattle

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

By Morgan Steward*

Kiara Chavez

Kiara Chavez, a student in the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, has a hectic life. In addition to being a full time student, the sophomore somehow also finds time in her schedule to volunteer, tutor and work in order to support herself. This year, Chavez was looking for a way to do something impactful with her spring break vacation and turned to the Casey Feldman Foundation. She applied and became one of our Alternative Spring Break scholarship recipients, traveling to Seattle, Washington to learn about youth in poverty and help build tiny homes for the homeless.

In order to provide for herself and her two sisters, Chavez’s parents moved from Mexico to the United States. Though her parents did not get the chance to attain a college degree themselves, they stressed the importance of education to Chavez. She combined this passion, along with her desire to help others, and began her first volunteer venture: tutoring younger neighborhood kids. Chavez continued to serve as a volunteer tutor in her community through high school, eventually branching out to helping in the local elementary school as well. To this day, Chavez still finds time to regularly tutor the children for whom she babysits.

As a ninth grade student, Chavez got the opportunity to travel with a group called Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow to volunteer in Utah. The program had a two-fold purpose: to enhance the participants’ leadership skills while also teaching them the importance of helping those around them. Since that moment, Chavez has desired to go on other volunteer trips to help communities in need, but was never able to do to the cost. When she found out about the Foundation’s alternative spring break program, Chavez knew she had to apply. “The life that Casey Feldman led is a fantastic reflection of how much positive change one person can be responsible for,” she said. “I have always believed in the power of volunteering as a mechanism to bringing positive change to people who truly need it.”

Chavez travelled to Seattle, Washington to partner with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), an organization that, according to their website, “develops, owns and operates housing for the benefit of low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people in Washington State; advocates for just housing policies at the local and national levels; and administers a range of supportive service programs to assist those we serve in maintaining stable housing and increasing their self-sufficiency.”

The students worked with the LIHI to build a village of tiny homes for people were homeless. In addition to physically building the homes, the students met with community leaders to learn about the various issues that impact the homeless and had the chance to interact and provide educational opportunities to homeless youth.

“The alternative break served as an amazing opportunity to understand a new perspective on youth in poverty,” Chavez said of her trip. For her, the hardest part of the trip was not the manual labor, but seeing others struggle.

While on the trip, Chavez had the opportunity to spend some time with some of the inhabitants of the tiny houses—those conversations turned onto her most memorable moments. “I found it fascinating to learn about their experiences, and at the same time it was heartwarming to see them doing better and being appreciative of where they currently are. Everything was very real in that the people did not have a big movie ending, and they still have their personalities related to their experiences. It helped keep me from looking at them as anything other than people who could easily be my friend or family member. There was no movie ending in which everything was perfect, but most of the people there found that having a place to live was the first step in getting their life back.”

Chavez returned from the trip determined to raise more awareness for the issue in her own community. She talked to her friends and family about what she learned from the experience and pledged to start taking direct action in helping the homeless of Boulder. Her action started small. “I did small things like take the food from school events to the homeless community in Colorado,” she recounted, but hopes to accomplish bigger things in the future.

“I truly appreciated this experience. Learning more about myself and the community in Boulder left an impact on me that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” she said. Chavez thinks that Casey would be proud of what the students accomplished in Seattle and thinks Casey would have enjoyed the trip as well. “I would not doubt that Casey Feldman would have enjoyed spending her time learning about the community in Seattle. Our volunteer work with the community would have enhanced her understanding of the community she helped at the West End Homeless Shelter in NYC.”

One of the tiney houses built for the homeless in Seattle

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*Morgan Steward is a junior Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Observer, Fordham’s student newspaper (where Casey was the News Editor).

 

Casey Feldman Foundation Proud of Scholarship Recipient, Alejandra Pedraza

Monday, October 30th, 2017

By Dianne Anderson*

Alejandra Pedraza  is a shining example of the kind of student that the Casey Feldman Foundation is proud to support through its Alternative Spring Break Scholarship program. This first generation college student and junior at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) was born in the United States by an immigrant mother who crossed the border from Mexico with Pedraza’s older sister in arms. According to Alejandra, “being born in this country is one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received.” Majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology as well as environmental studies, Alejandra hopes to one day become an environmental lawyer to protect the environment and advocate for people who are disproportionately impacted by unsound environmental practices.

“Being in college is a great privilege” and “one of the hardest and most fulfilling endeavors of my life,” says Pedraza, who takes immense pride in being the first in family to attend college and sees herself as a role model for her younger sister.“I make the most out of every day by constantly learning and participating in events and activities,” she adds.

A Daniels Scholar as the result of her exceptional character, leadership, and community service, Pedraza is grateful for the payment of her college tuition and fees. With no other financial support, she has worked throughout college to pay her living expenses and to send money to her hard working mother, who struggles to make ends meet. This leaves virtually no funding for the many extra programs, activities and leadership opportunities that she would like to participate in, something often taken for granted by other students.

One of these is the Alternative Breaks, a program of the Volunteer Resource Center at CU, which sends teams of college students to engage in community-based service projects during each college break, providing opportunities for students to learn about the problems faced by members of communities with whom they may otherwise have had little or no direct contact.

It was only through funding from the Casey Feldman Foundation that Pedraza was afforded the opportunity to participate in the Alternative Spring Break human trafficking trip this past spring in Miami, Florida. The host for the students in Miami was The Life of Freedom Center, a community resource that offers free support and restorative programs for female survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking and works toward ending human trafficking both locally and throughout the United States.

The experience was an immersive educational experience for Alejandro and her fellow volunteers who learned about this $32 billion industry and  how to identify and respond to human trafficking in their own community.  Much of Alejandra’s time and energy is focused on the environment and she was eager, as a student leader, to learn about this critical and heartbreaking issue. “This trip really helped bring the concept of human trafficking closer to home. A lot of the things I witnessed in Miami can easily be witnessed throughout the streets of Denver. I simply had never put two and two together,” said Alejandro.

Part of Alejandra’s week was spent volunteering her services at a safe house for human trafficking victims where she performed landscaping work to make the entrance more attractive.” I loved doing this,” said Alejandra, “because I was able to actually contribute to the cause with my own hard work. Casey Feldman was a champion of human rights and by participating in this trip, I took a step in the same direction.”

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Dianne (R) and Casey, Christmas 2006

 

*Dianne Anderson  is the mother of the late Casey Feldman and co-founder of The Casey Feldman Foundation.

 

Scholarship Recipient Volunteers in Aftermath of Louisiana Flood

Friday, October 27th, 2017

By Jacinda Romo*

University of Colorado (CU)  sophomore, Juwan Harris is a 2017 Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship recipient. Majoring in integrative physiology with a certificate in public health, Harris hopes to one day become a trauma surgeon and work with Doctors Without Borders. A Colorado native who enjoys Boulder’s culture and atmosphere,  Juwan’s compassion for others has propelled him into extensive community service,  which has included volunteering at the Salvation Army, Ronald McDonald House and the Denver Soup Kitchen.

Juwan is one of three brothers raised by a single mom who battled constant financial instability. He was the recipient of a Daniels Fund 4-year college scholarship as the result of his exceptional character, leadership, and community service.  Despite his childhood memories of hardship,  Juwan sees himself as quite fortunate and feels that the daily issues that he faces are trivial in comparison to those who are genuinely struggling. This motivates him to want help others experience the “chance at a life and a future.”

Juwan was part of a group of CU student volunteers this spring who participated in the “Natural Disasters and Rebuilding” Alternative Spring Break trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A stipend from the Casey Feldman Foundation covered Juwan’s expenses for the trip to Baton Rouge to help in the aftermath of catastrophic flooding which occurred in August, 2016. Thousands of homes and businesses had been submerged in waters and Harris volunteerred with a local organization that rebuilt homes for those who were physically and financially unable to do so themselves. Starting at 7 am each morning, Juwan worked on the home of a man who was confined to a wheelchair and living in a makeshift trailer on his property. Juan’s labor included removing moldy insulation and ultimately, repainting the entire home.

Juwan was able to get to know the grateful homeowner, who he described as “the most genuine, caring, and humorous man I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting,”  adding that “southern hospitality is a real thing… I helped him not because I had to or because I signed up for the trip but because after meeting him the first day I felt as though I needed to help him. He was the driving force of why I woke up every morning that week at 7 am to work all day.”

“I feel like whenever a natural disaster happens it’s so easy to post a status about praying for that city or to post about donating $1….Being physically present and helping the cause hands-on is so much more meaningful,” said Juwan.

Since 2010, the Casey Feldman Foundation has provided funding for some 5 to 10 college students annually to participate in an Alternative Spring Break trip. To continue to make this scholarship stipend possible and enable students to experience the joy and gratification of volunteer service, please DONATE here.

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*Jacinda Romo is a current sophomore at the University of Colorado Boulder majoring in political science with a minor in leadership and ethnic studies.  She plans to influence others through education and empathy as she pursues a career in social justice and civic engagement.

Elizabeth LeNard Turns Everything Off to Capture Each Moment of Helping Others

Friday, September 25th, 2015

By Jennifer Geiringer*

L. Leonard.JPG 4

Elizabeth Lenard

For Elizabeth LeNard (L), volunteering and giving her time to help victims of hurricane Katrina came easy; it’s just what she felt she was meant to do for her spring break.

Ever since Elizabeth was young, she wanted to change the world. As she became older, Elizabeth realized that was a pretty lofty dream,  so she decided to devote time volunteering with many organizations to become more focused in her pursuit. She volunteered at a local library, helped with underprivileged youths in her community, and worked on several community fundraising events. Elizabeth said she was drawn to the Alternative Spring Break program, because like the EndDD.org campaign of the Casey Feldman Foundation, she had a dream to change something that was wrong in our society.

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Some of Elizabeth’s classmates who she worked with on the home of the Katrina victim

As one of the 2015  recipients of an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) scholarship provided by the Casey Feldman Foundation, Elizabeth had the opportunity to spend her spring break from college helping build a home for a Katrina victim who had also become the victim of a fraud contractor. “I began my ‘Alternative Spring Break’ trip to New Orleans by turning everything off: social media, my phone, and the responsibilities of my “old” life,” said Elizabeth. “By doing this, I was able to understand and experience this new place and these stories with utter attention.”

Elizabeth saw first-hand how someone can lose everything, changing their life forever in just the blink of an eye. She also learned how some people will take advantage of others, even after they have just experienced a disaster. This was probably the most surprising realization since Elizabeth has always been so giving of herself, especially to those less fortunate.

During her week stay, Elizabeth not only gave of herself but grew as a young adult. She learned how to use her hands to build/re-build, but how to be more patient and understanding of others. She also learned that no matter what may happen in life,  she too can persevere, just as the Katrina victim did whose house she was helping to rebuild. “Going in, I didn’t know much about Katrina, I just knew what the media told me,” said Elizabeth. “Going in, I just had the idea to help without the prior knowledge of how important my help would actually be on the city. Going in and coming out were two completely different stories.”

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Elizabeth and her group from CU taking time out from their work in New Orleans to pose for a photo

Elizabeth is now a sophomore at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder , where, in addition to her studies, she is interning with New Era Colorado Foundation , an organization that seeks to empower young people in democracy. Elizabeth is working on getting out the vote, stating that “It is the young people who will change the world!” In addition, L is a member of the the Academic Excellence Program  and INVST at CU Boulder.

Of her ASB experience, Elizabeth said it was truly life-changing and she has vowed that money will never stop her from making a difference in the world.

All of our Alternate Spring Break scholarships are based upon fininacial need. Please donate to the Casey Feldman Foundation so that other deserving students may experience an Alternative Spring Break.

Related Links:

“Alternative Spring Break Scholarships Fostering a Generation Who Wants to Give Back“,   Nov. 2014  (Casey Feldman Foundation) 

About the Alternative Spring Break Program (CU Volunteer Resource Center)

Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Blog News (scroll down through for all articles)

Elizabeth Lenard (3rd from L) with Casey Feldman's parents, Dianne  Anderson and Joel Feldman in Boulder in July with Foundation scholarship recipients Vi-Thuy Vo (L), Charly Mendoza and Ramya Palaniappan

Boulde, CO in July: Elizabeth Lenard (3rd from L) with Casey Feldman’s parents, Dianne Anderson and Joel Feldman and Foundation scholarship recipients Vi-Thuy Vo (L), Charly Mendoza and Ramya Palaniappan

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*Jennifer Bello-GeiringerJennifer Geiringer serves as Marketing Director of Lawsuit Financial, a pro-justice litigation funding company owned by veteran attorney Mark Bello. She and Mark are friends of Casey’s parents and long time supporters of the Casey Feldman Foundation.