By Stacy Day
While their classmates were getting tans, they were getting grass stains. When friends were slaloming down ski slopes, they were climbing ladders.
It was a spring break with purpose for 10 college students and their adviser from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. The students opted to forgo a week at the beach or on the slopes for Bobcat Break, a drug-free, alcohol-free volunteer opportunity in New Orleans at Malta Square, a Willwoods Community senior residence at 3222 Canal St. It was the program’s second year, and the second year at Malta Square.
It’s an appealing alternative to the other spring break options for Kim Sandus, president of STSU’s Student Volunteer Connection, who enjoys “giving back to the community, getting out and seeing new cultures, interacting and making a difference.”
The students arrived in New Orleans late on March 8 and enjoyed Mass at St. Louis Cathedraland a day of sightseeing March 9, before beginning their service learning at Malta Square on March 10-12.
According to Dainon Deviney, the program’s adviser and graduate research assistant, the eight women and two men landscaped the grounds of the senior center, including trimming trees and laying down 175 bags of mulch. They also provided interior enhancements to the facility, such as repainting stairwells.
However, the highlight of Bobcat Break for the students and residents alike was the senior spring Olympics, in which residents participated in student-coordinated games of volleyball, bowling, golf, shuffleboard and basketball. Closing ceremonies, complete with medals, concluded the games.
For Lori Schulte, a junior at STSU, the senior Olympics was her favorite part of the trip to New Orleans. A sports lover, Schulte liked seeing that the residents “still love to be involved in sports.”
It was a special event, agreed Malta Square’s Debbie Koehler. The students and residents cheered each other, she said.
It was not all work and no play for the group from San Marcos. Deviney, who volunteered at Malta Square last year, savored his favorite part of New Orleans — the food — with a crawfish boil hosted by Malta Square and a trip to the restaurant NOLA. Sandus and Schulte appreciate the architecture of the city.
Junior Brian Christianson, a graduate of Holy Cross High School in San Antonio, enjoyed visiting the brother school to his alma mater while in New Orleans.
“It’s a fun place to give back,” Schulte said of New Orleans.
For sophomore Juan Rodriguez, who wanted to do something productive and be with friends during spring break, the highlight of the trip boiled down to “bonding with the residents and getting my cheeks pinched.”