Alternative spring break program gives New York collegians southern exposure

LAURENS  As part of an alternative spring break program offered by their college, 26 students from the Newman Club at the University of Buffalo in New York spent last week in the Palmetto State working at a variety of endeavors.

The group traveled down from New York to Laurens in three vans along with their campus minister, Maria Clare, and two women religious. Their activities in the Piedmont were coordinated by Sister Mary Laura Lesniak, parish life facilitator at Holy Spirit Church in Laurens.

While attending a chapter meeting of her religious order, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, last year, Sister Lesniak spoke to a woman religious who works with college students and was interested in taking part in this type of project.

For the New York group, morning prayer began each day at 7:30 a.m.

Afterward, the groups left for their worksites. Students were divided up into households, and a different household was in charge of preparing the meal each evening. After dinner, there was a sharing time when the young adults talked about their experiences of the day.

Sister Lesniak said she was pleased with the good diversity of the group, which included Anglos, Asians and African-Americans as well as a mix from freshmen to seniors, along with three couples.

There were many different activities in which the group took part. Students tutored at the Joanna Woodson Center in Joanna and the Bell Street School in Clinton, painted at the Laurens County Memorial Home for the Aging in Laurens, cleared overgrowth and debris from a former slave cemetery in Clinton, and worked on completing two Habitat for Humanity houses in Laurens.

At one home the young adults rebuilt a porch and fixed steps; at another house they repainted the exterior of the house. Sister Lesniak said the director of Habitat for Humanity in Laurens went out to one worksite and prayed with the group.

She said one of the students told her, “I came ready to do what I needed to do,” emphasizing that everyone who came was willing to do whatever task assigned to them.

For the collegians, the trip wasn’t all work and no play, though. Wednesday was a free day, and students went in groups to Greenville, Atlanta, and Charleston.

While in Laurens, the students stayed at Hunter Hall at First Prebyterian Church in Laurens. The facility was built in 1982 with the purpose of housing mission groups working in the area, but Sister Lesniak said the team from Buffalo was the first group to do so.

“This is the most cohesive group I’ve worked with,” said Sister Lesniak. “We’ve gotten a lot of cooperation for this project,” citing warm welcomes from the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists.