Making a difference in Macon, Georgia

While many Bradley students were preparing to head back to the Hilltop for the spring semester, nine students, intent on making a difference in an impoverished community, traveled to Macon, Georgia, as part of the Bradley U Gives Back Alternative Winter Break program.

While in Macon, the students volunteered by repairing homes and packing lunches for impoverished children.

Junior sociology major Alicia Petramale attended the trip and said many members of the community deal with poor housing conditions.

“In Macon and the surrounding areas, they struggle with a lot of blighted housing,” Petramale said. “So the purpose of us being there was to help … turn that around and build a stronger community.”

The trip’s first activities involved assisting an elderly man repair his home, which had a caved-in ceiling, according to Petramale.

“We were assigned to an elderly gentleman’s home who had emphysema the first part of the week,” Petramale said. “We came in to clean up after [the cave-in], move furniture, paint walls and assist the carpenters with installing drywall.”

Petramale said the group also took part in a local school’s Backpack Program, which provides lunches for hundreds of children.

“Every week, they give 450 children a bag of food so that the children can eat over the weekend as their parents can’t always afford for them,” Petramale said.

The Alternative Winter Break program, which has now completed its second successful trip, was created by Lewis J. Burger Center for Student Leadership and Public Service Director Jessica Chandler. Chandler said the creation of the program was inspired by her own personal experiences in community service and her desire to provide similar experiences to Bradley students.

“I wanted to give students an opportunity over extended breaks to get involved in a community that is different from their own,” Chandler said.

Chandler said the decision on the location for the trips is based on a multitude of factors.

“One: travel; I typically look at places that are within driving distance,” Chandler said. “Second: issues area. What is a community issue that students would be interested in working with? Three: service work. I’m typically looking for more hands-on projects. So it’s a trifecta of location, issue area and work.”

According to Chandler, the projects that students engage in are chosen by non-profits operating in the location selected for the trip. However, Chandler said she strives for students to be able to work hands-on.

“Each site has different needs, so depending on what service site we go to, they will decide what projects we work on,” Chandler said. “However, I try to find more hands-on organizations, so we’ll have more hands-on service projects.”

Regarding the future of the Alternative Winter Break program, Chandler said she is willing to continue planning trips if students remain interested.

“The biggest change I am looking into is getting student trip leaders,” Chandler said. “I’d love to be able to work with a dedicated two to three students who want to plan and run the trip … I’m happy to say we are working towards this awesome leadership opportunity for students.”

Petramale said the program is an excellent opportunity for students who want to experience something different.

“My biggest takeaway is the importance of service to others and learning about a different culture or area,” Petramale said. “Everyone is shaped by different experiences they have in their life, and being able to experience their livelihood and show them humanity through service is a beautiful thing and has the capacity to grow you and the people you serve in so many ways.”