Raise Your Voice Award presented to two URI students for compelling alternative spring break

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KINGSTON, R.I.- April 22, 2013- Rhode Island’s second local alternative spring break, which included working with Pre-K students at A Place to Grow in Wakefield and picking up garbage around the Blackstone Valley in Pawtucket, earned two University of Rhode Island pharmacy majors statewide recognition.

AmeriCorps members Melissa Reilly, a P2 of Mahopac, N.Y., and Lanh Dang, a P2 of Lawrence, Mass., put together a five-day program in March that earned them the President Irving Schneider Raise Your Voice Award, sponsored by Rhode Island Campus Compact. They also received $500 to put toward their vision.

Schneider is the former president of Johnson and Wales University and an advocate for Rhode Island Campus Compact, a collaboration of college and university presidents dedicated to community service on campuses that coordinates, organizes, and deepens individual and collective work.

The alternative spring break was not the duo’s first service experience.

“I took a community service class at URI two years ago, taught by Sarah Miller, through the Feinstein Enriching America Program,” said Reilly. “It inspired me to participate in other service opportunities, like AmeriCorps.”

“My senior honors project with Sarah Miller and the Clearinghouse for Volunteers consists of revamping the Civic Engagement Leader (CEL) program, which works with URI 101 students, while inspiring fellow servant leaders to become involved in the URI and greater Rhode Island community,” said Dang.

The alternative spring break projects started on Monday, March 11.

“We created this alternative spring break in Rhode Island to give students the opportunity to participate in a life changing experience at little cost to them,” said Dang.

Reilly, Dang, and eight other students from different years and majors spent their first day helping Pre-K students read at A Place to Grow in Wakefield, in collaboration with Jumpstart URI. The students then headed to Welcome House, a transitional house for those in need.

“Rhode Island has become my second home and I want to be able to help keep it beautiful, happy, and healthy,” said Dang. “Volunteering and serving our local community is just as important as traveling to other parts of the country and the world to help.”

Keeping Blackstone Valley beautiful was the next initiative on the list. After students cleaned up all the garbage at the Pawtucket site, they headed to Rhode Island Food Bank to pack food that is distributed to local pantries to help feed the homeless and hungry.

“We forget there are hungry people right here in Rhode Island,” said Reilly.

On Wednesday, the students visited South Bay Retirement Living, a nursing home in Wakefield. They made arts and crafts with the residents.

“The elderly folks loved having young people around,” said Reilly.

The following day, URI’s Kingston campus hosted Girls Reaching Remarkable Levels, also known as GRRL Tech, which is a tech collective promoting the involvement of high school girls in the STEM subjects- science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The students were paired with female professionals as they helped the high school girls at each of the 23 interactive workshops. Bri Neptin, the group’s faculty advisor for the week, was one of the main coordinators that brought GRRL Tech to the URI campus.

“Helping Neptin during GRRL Tech allowed the group to see her as more than just our faculty advisor,” said Reilly. “She is also a vital part of the University, thanks to her work with the College of The Environment and Life Sciences and the Coastal Fellows Program.”

“We want students to get involved in service, learn about societal problems like hunger and homelessness, and be knowledgeable about what nonprofits have to offer,” said Dang. “We engage passionate students and make them realize that little things do make a difference.”

They finished up the week at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), where they listened to the inmates’ emotional stories.

“Many of us were brought to tears,” said Reilly.

The URI Catholic Center allowed the ten students to stay there for the five-day period, so they spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning up and returning the facility back to normal.

“I experienced something special each day, so it’s hard to say which service day trip affected me the most,” said Reilly. “Each activity represented a fundamentally important part of our society.”

“My most memorable experience was being able to see a group of strangers become amazing friends, while bonding over their passion for service and helping the community,” said Dang. “At the beginning, the group was shy, but as the trip proceeded, the inside jokes became abundant, random bouts of singing became normal, and laughter could be heard at all hours of the day.”

Both Reilly and Dang plan to incorporate community service and nonprofit work into their careers after their anticipated 2015 graduation.

Victoria Antonelli, a senior journalism major and intern at the Marketing and Communications Department, wrote this press release.


URI students pose in front of Welcome House of South County before beginning their community service project.

Maria Consuegra, a URI student, cleaning the streets of Pawtucket during the alternative spring break project.

Residents of South Bay Retirement Living show off their arts and crafts.

Photos submitted by Melissa Reilly