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President's Corner: March 2016

Old Dominion University's campus is quiet this week. That's because it's spring break. Among students' destinations are Florida and Utah, but not for fun and games. Those are two of the five locations for alternative spring breaks, where our students are working to better the lives of others.

In Key West, Fla., they will help cultivate a community garden to feed low-income residents. In Moab, Utah, they will build straw-bale houses - a model of energy efficiency - for needy families. In McClellanville, S.C., they will help restore oyster beds and repair the homes of elderly residents.

Old Dominion also has organized alternative spring break programs in Bluefield, W.Va., and Milwaukee, Wis. Each trip has two student leaders and one faculty adviser, with training for participants before and after their trips.

Old Dominion students actively engage in public service throughout the year. They logged more than 500,000 hours during the 2014-15 school year, with a total value of $12.5 million.

These efforts have won national attention. For four years in a row, Old Dominion has been included in the U.S. President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

In a letter I received last year, Break Away - a nonprofit organization that supports alternative spring break programs - praised the "incredible work being done" by Old Dominion. "Students are at the helm of program planning now more than ever before," the co-directors of Break Away wrote.

These programs don't make a difference just for the beneficiaries. They also change the lives of participants.

Candis Collins spent spring break last year volunteering at a children's organization in Miami. After she graduated, she took a job with Youth Villages, an organization that helps troubled children in Memphis.

Last year Matt Fitzpatrick helped fix homes ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey. Among the lessons he gained from the experience: "I learned not to take things for granted anymore." Matt, now a senior, served as the programming chairman for this year's alternative spring break. He has also participated in other service activities, included processing clothing donations at Union Mission Ministries.

To emphasize the importance of service, my wife, First Lady Kate Broderick, and I, along with her family, established and endowed the Evon-Broderick Award for Community Engagement and Service in 2011 in honor of our mothers, Joan Evon and Ellen Broderick.

We believe that service is a crucial component of education and character formation. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve."

If you have suggestions for other opportunities for our students, please contact our Center for Service and Civic Engagement at volunteer@odu.edu or 757-683-6948.

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