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With little more than paint, supplies and the willingness to do good, members of the University of the Incarnate Word community will set out into a San Antonio neighborhood and change lives. Over the semester holiday, March 12 through 16, students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends will once again participate in UIW’s Alternative Spring Break, the service initiative sponsored by the Office of Mission and Ministry.

Now in its ninth year, the initiative invites volunteers to spend part of their Spring Break taking part in a unique service project that directly impacts underserved neighborhoods in the San Antonio area. Every year, two homes are selected for painting and maintenance by the Frank Garrett Community Center, a UIW partner that serves as home base for the project. There, daily work begins with breakfast and a thoughtful reflection led by Sr. Walter Maher, vice president for Mission and Ministry. Then, participants load the UIW shuttle to the homes and prepare to spring to work, clearing, scraping, taping and applying a fresh coat of paint to outer walls, trims and more.

“We spend the entire week working on those two projects,” says Dr. Joleen Beltrami, associate professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and co-chair of Alternative Spring Break, along with Adam Mulder, assistant professor of art.  

The effort not only elevates the exterior look of the home, but lifts the spirits of its residents. “For me, the most rewarding thing about Alternative Spring Break is that we take care of someone’s home, the place they live and raise their family,” says Beltrami.

This year’s work does just that. Among the residents being served are a grandmother and her grandsons who pitched in to help paint a house last year. One of last year’s service recipients was a 102-year-old man unable to do the work himself. Although the work may directly benefit two homes annually, the positive impact extends into the surrounding neighborhood.

“There is a ripple effect in the community,” says Beltrami. Neighbors come out and start tidying the yard, or try and take a little more pride in their houses. And, long after the painting has concluded, Beltrami or a participant may drive by a home that they worked on to find it is still in good condition, she says.

This initiative is yet another way that UIW reaches into neighboring communities, engages in a dialogue and puts the University Mission to work.

“One of the rewarding things is that neighbors will see the big Incarnate Word bus parked in front of the home, and we get an opportunity to tell them our story and how involved UIW students are in the community,” she says. “And, they tell us their story. They tell us, ‘we saw you here last year; we are glad to see you come back; and we really appreciate our presence in the community.’ ”

Participants, too, come away spiritually richer for having volunteered. “They don’t see it as a chore or a task, they see it as an opportunity,” says Beltrami. That opportunity is open to all members of the UIW community, including alumni, who have also played an important part by working and bringing along their family members. “It is great to see that spirit of the Mission continues with students after they leave.”

There is no deadline to register to participate in this year’s Alternative Spring Break, and each full day counts for six hours of student community service. Breakfast, lunch and transportation to and from the work sites are provided. Volunteers can register for any number of days during the project’s five-day duration, and all time given is very welcome, says Beltrami. “Even just one day can make a difference for a homeowner and a community.”

For more information and to register to participate in Alternative Spring Break, visit the Service Initiative website.