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Trip combines sightseeing and community service

The group poses for a New York City park they shoveled: Back row: Amelia Hogan, Brittany Johndrow, Julie Gongware, Christopher Dettore, Alicia Lyons, John Sfarnas, Zoe Sadler, Helen Fallon, Mack Frantz, Surrae Shotts and Justin Platek. Front row: Adelyn Biedenbach, Mary Eklund, Flora Strange, Allison Wynands, Anna Rhodes and Faith Cotter. | Photo by Allison Wynands
The Point Park group poses in a New York City park where they shoveled show. | Photo by Allison Wynands

A group of 14 Point Park students - some in the University Honors Program, some who reside in Point Park's Living and Learning Communities - spent four days in New York City for one of the University's two alternative spring break programs for 2010. (The other group went to New Orleans.) For Spring Break in the Big Apple, the students were accompanied by Prof. Helen Fallon, director of the University Honors Program, Julia Gongaware, Living and Learning Communities coordinator and a Point Park graduate student, and Amelia Hogan, a community director for the Office of Campus Life.

The New York City trip combined Big Apple fun with volunteer work, including: shoveling snow and cleaning up debris from a city park, dog run and playground; teaching computer skills; preparing snacks and handling other tasks at Moravian House, an agency that provides transitional housing and serves other needs for homeless residents; and helping another organization, Housing Works, prepare for a fundraiser of high-fashion apparel, home items and furniture.

Slideshow: Spring Break
in the Big Apple

Click the photo above for a Spring Break slideshow, compiled by photography major Mary Eklund.

The sightseeing activities included touring Times Square, being in the audience at "Good Morning America" (ABC's live morning news show) and dining in trendy restaurants. The students also visited New York City sites too numerous to list!

During their visit, the students posted to a trip blog and shared images, impressions and videos on Facebook. After arriving back in Pittsburgh, Fallon received heartfelt messages of thanks from the organizations where the students volunteered, including a note that said the fundraiser made $27,000.

"Thank you again for your hard work. It was a pleasure to meet such kind and helpful students," read one message. "Come back and visit us anytime."

Several students provided descriptions of their most memorable part of the trip. Below are their accounts.

Adelyn Biedenbach

Sophomore majoring in journalism from Carnegie, Pa.

"One of the most exciting moments of our trip was our random celebrity sighting. We were passing out fliers for Housing Works Thrift Shop as part of our community service and starting to get really cold because of the extreme wind. It was funny because we got sort of an instant motivator for our volunteer work when Hugh Jackman stepped out of a nearby car and walked onto the street where we were. My volunteer buddy even managed to give him a flier! It was a unique experience and a little bit of instant karma, also, something I will never forget."

Brittany Johndrow

Sophomore double majoring in print journalism and public relations from Aliquippa, Pa.

"Even though I learned something valuable from my experiences at all three organizations, it was Housing Works that was really a unique opportunity. This not-for- profit organization is able to utilize the fashion consciousness of New York City to improve the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS by selling donated merchandise. It was inspiring to see all of the clothing and furniture that people have donated to the store, as well as the group of people who work constantly to keep everything together.

What really moving to me was that this cause impacts those living in the city, their own neighbors. I think that this was a great place for us to volunteer at because it was a great example of how we can help out those in our area with more than just donating money. This really made me rethink our abilities, even as students, to impact the community. This experience that Point Park created for me was life-altering and could not have been duplicated anywhere else."

Follow Point Park students on an alternative spring break trip to New York City by viewing the video above, produced by graduate assistant Ken Fibbe.

Alicia Lyons

Freshman double majoring broadcasting and secondary education-mass communications from Belle Vernon, Pa.

"For me, the moment that stood out the most was when I worked at Housing Works. It was more than just a high-class thrift store. All of the proceeds of items bought benefited people struggling financially with the AIDS virus. It was so much fun organizing clothes and passing out fliers on the subway with Zoe and Anna. The part that really hit me was when I saw the sign that said "Fashion Saved my Life" with the person who said it behind the words. It really made me feel good about what I was doing and how cool it was that people donated everything in Housing Works (Prada and Chanel shoes, Yves St. Laurent clothes, Jimmy Choo, Dooney and Burke purses) in the thought of helping someone else out. It was amazing, and I would love to go back and help some day."

Justin Platek

Junior majoring in journalism from Pittsburgh, Pa.

"The instant I stepped into New York I became a tourist. I snapped pictures of everything I saw and used Twitter from my cell phone to document what was going on. I was shameless. Walking through the streets of Harlem early morning during rush hour, I stopped sidewalk traffic to take a picture of the Apollo Theatre. I took pictures of the subway stops that named famous landmarks like Grand Central Station and Times Square. I even took pictures of the food I ate from the restaurants I went to."

Zoe Sadler

Freshman majoring in advertising/public relations from Greensburg, Pa.

"We arrived at the Moravian House with the mission of teaching some residents how to use a computer for e-mail and basic Microsoft Word functions. Our first candidate came strolling in the door wearing a New York knit beanie, a Brooklyn T-shirt, and black jeans. "I'm Mike. I want to learn computers," he said with a beaming grin. So I sat him down and taught him everything I knew. For four hours I described the functions of the keyboard and showed him the magic of attaching files in e-mail. Mike shared with me his story as I shared my technology knowledge. He didn't know how to read or write well, making his adult life even more difficult. He eagerly worked at his jobs, but couldn't receive higher salaries because of his lack of knowledge. Yet I can't even begin to explain his enthusiasm or his excited spirit. In the time I worked with him he followed all that I said and diligently took notes. Mike was exceptionally bright."

"My experience at the Moravian House helped to define my purpose on the Spring Break in the Big Apple trip - I learned that my difficulties can't and shouldn't limit my desire to learn. At Point Park, opportunities are everywhere. Many people don't even live with that option - people like Mike. However Mike lived with more passion and dedication for knowledge than a lot of students I know, including myself sometimes. Coming back from New York City, I brought a new sense of appreciation and new motivation. Clearly, Spring Break in the Big Apple inspired me. I can't express my entire satisfaction with the trip."

Allie Wynands

Freshman majoring in photojournalism from Pottstown, Pa.

"Having the chance to help strangers is one of the most enlightening things. In NYC, we were able to volunteer at a variety of organizations where our work was valued and appreciated more than I expected. To be told and then actually see that our work is making a difference in someone's life, even the slightest difference, was humbling. I've been to NYC many times before, don't get me wrong, but visiting there for those four days was entirely different. The volunteer work we did forced me to look at strangers differently, making me think "What could I do for this one person that would bring a smile across their face or lift a weight from their mind?" It was awesome seeing all of us work together to help others, and I hope that everyone else can realize how easy it is to volunteer, help and contribute to make a stranger's day that much brighter. After all, we're all inhabiting this world together, and strangers are in essence our neighbors."