There are many communities across the world, whether struck by disaster or impoverished, that need a helping hand, and an organization at Ohio State seeks to meet those needs.
Buck-I-SERV is an alternative break program, which sends between 80 and 90 trips of students to both national and international destinations annually to complete volunteer services during the winter, spring and summer breaks.
It began as a student organization in 2002, but when it became too large for a student organization to maintain, OSU turned it into an official student activity with staff and funding.
Bailey Harr, Buck-I-SERV coordinator, said that the program is one of the largest alternative break programs in the U.S. However, Harr said that size is not what Buck-I-SERV strives for, but instead, that it aspires to beneficially impact the communities that it visits.
“We believe in connecting with the community there, and getting to know who they are,” Harr said. “We want to know what kinds of challenges they are having and what needs they need to be met, and then provide our time and service to work on those things.”
The Buck-I-SERV motto is “Travel. Learn. Serve.” The program sends students to the Midwest, South and locations along the East Coast for a week for $200 to $400, Harr said. While traveling to a new place can be exciting, Harr said she stresses the learning and serving aspects.
Buck-I-SERV advisory board member Alex Downie, a fourth-year in political science, said he agrees. Downie became involved with Buck-I-SERV his second year at OSU when he visited Birmingham, Alabama, in winter 2014, and became a member of the advisory board the following fall.
During his trip to Birmingham, Downie reshingled roofs for a week.
“It was hot, dirty work,” Downie said. “However, it was well worth it knowing I was making a difference in people’s lives.”
Harr said that her favorite part of coordinating Buck-I-SERV is hearing stories from participants who are really moved by what they learn on location.
“Buck-I-SERV goes to New Orleans a lot to continue helping with Katrina disaster relief,” Harr said. “Students will come back and say, ‘Wow, I had no idea what it really meant to go through such a disaster.’”
Harr said that hearing students reflect on the lessons that they learn in just one week of volunteering makes all of the work and planning she does worth it.
While serving, students volunteer 30 to 40 hours a week and are housed in church basements, hostels or on-site housing facilities.
Upon the return of each wave of volunteers — winter, spring and summer — Buck-I-SERV puts on a Welcome Back Gala. The gala both celebrates everyone’s return and experiences from the trip and what participants will do in the future.
“The gala says that we can all still be friends in Columbus, but also that continued service in the community is important and easy to do,” Downie said.
At the 2015 Winter Trip Gala, students shared trip testimonials. Of the 10 students who went on the trip to the One Heartland camp in Willow River, Minnesota, which works with children with HIV and AIDS, Downie said more than half of the participants will be returning to the camp as counselors.
Harr and Downie both said they believe that Buck-I-SERV trips are not merely about fixing a problem and leaving but something that can strongly impact both the volunteers and the community members.
“Sometimes people look at alternative breaks and think, ‘Oh yeah, it’s just students going somewhere warm for spring break, saying that they are volunteering, but not actually,’” Harr said. “But Buck-I-SERV really focuses on caring and impacting. It’s making real connections and a sustainable impact.”
Downie urges students to give Buck-I-SERV a chance, because that chance will improve the lives of people.
“I would encourage people who are unfamiliar with the program to just give it a shot and try it,” Downie said. “All of our trips are over breaks, so they really have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.”
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