Giving back on break

Spring break took on a new meaning for the St. John’s Greek community this year when members of various organizations participated in a service program in Florida called Give Kids the World.

Twelve students from the Queens and Staten Island campuses from organizations including Theta Phi Alpha, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Phi Beta, Delta Epsilon Beta, and Delta Kappa Delta attended the program, which provided help to a village that caters to sick children.

The Give Kids the World Village is located in Orlando, Florida. Each year, the 70-acre non-profit resort provides activity-filled, weeklong vacations for thousands of ailing children and their families.

Give Kids the World was founded in 1986, and the Give Kids the World Village opened in 1989. Give Kids the World, founded by hotel owner and philanthropist Henri Landwirth, serves more than 6,500 families a year.

Each week more than 1,200 volunteer shifts are filled to help families experience their memorable vacations. Some of the activities the students participated in included building and painting a fence, taking pictures of kids with their favorite Disney characters, working in the kitchens, working at the “spa” giving the little girls manicures, running rides and activities for the kids, and dressing up and staging Christmas for the kids every week. They worked full days in shifts from 7:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Although this was community service, the students didn’t feel that way because they had so much fun. Mary Scanlon, a member of Gamma Phi Beta, said she felt that the service was rewarding.

“What we did was much better and more rewarding than any other spring break,” said Scanlon.

“I wish everybody could do it, I never wanted to leave. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you took your time to help others and made their time at the village better.”

Another student explained how she felt the village was beneficial to children and their families.

“All their pain and trouble is taken away at the village,” said Samantha Polanzi, a member of Kappa Phi Beta.
Alysha Velez, a member of Theta Phi Alpha, felt that the children were not the only ones being rewarded.

“It was the most amazing spring break I have ever had,” she said.

“I felt like a kid again. Going in I thought it would be really depressing but it was such a happy environment. It was life changing.”

Mary Pelkowski, director of Leadership Development, explained how this trip strengthened the bonds between students.
“This trip is to find a way to bring the Greeks together in a common bond and purpose,” she said.

With so much time during the day allotted for work there was very little downtime for the students.

However, they made time every night for a reflection, where they discussed everything they were doing and how they were feeling.

“There was never enough time to talk,” said
Pelkowski.

The students were chosen from a very large group of interested students. Faculty picked six students from each campus to go.

Other schools who volunteered at the village are Clemson University, Clayton University, Vanderbilt University, and DePaul University. St. John’s has gone to the village for three years now and has tried to make a difference there beyond their spring breaks.

All of the proceeds from Lip Synch, a Greek Week activity, will go to the village. This is extremely helpful since the village works on donations only so the families can attend free of charge.

The program serves as a branching tool that brings the organizations closer together. This program in particular served as a Greek Life bonding experience.

The common feeling among the volunteers was that it was quite a spring break to remember.

“It’s a life-changing experience to make a child smile and laugh,” said Pelkowski.
“It’s truly Vincentian. It’s what Vincent would want us to do: help the children.”