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Students from Texas A&M University in College Station participated in various alternative spring breaks. There were four groups of students volunteering at four different locations – John L. McClellan Veterans Memorial Hospital at Little Rock, Arkansas, Jefferson Parish West Bank Animal Shelter at New Orleans, Louisiana, Living Lands & Waters at Memphis, Tennessee, and the Sedgwick County Zoo at Wichita, Kansas. The students paid to go on a service based spring break trip.

I was the staff advisor for the the Little Rock group – available for support if the assigned student leader needed help. I didn’t need to interfere with her leadership because the students on this trip were great TAMU representatives. I watched the students interact with disabled veterans, build storage sheds, stuff envelopes and carefully bring in the decorative flags around the hospital, they also built more than 60 new flags on PVC pipes.

Mind you the trip is not all work and no play. The students had time to go hiking up a small “mountain, visit historic places in Little Rock, and play in a park by the River Market area.

At the veterans hospital we saw a program where disable veterans can make wooden pens and pill holders. The man who created the program was a quadriplegic who managed to get some movement in his arms. Enough to hold the tools and make the pens. He has since passed away, but the hospital continues the program in his memory. The patients are taught how to make pens and they can keep the pens they make as they are learning. Once they get better the staff ask them to make one for themselves and one for the program so they have pens to give as gifts. All of this is free to the patients – they do no pay to make and keep pens. Many of the supplies are donations so the program can keep it this way. They even recently recovered wood from the Little Rock capital during a renovation. Using this wood to make “Capital” pens.

I was watching one patient making a pen with his son and grandson watching. He was using only one hand since his other hand was bandaged and stayed in his lap. He worked slowly and carefully. Once he had finished he made the comment, “This is better than taking pain meds!” He liked doing this so much that they gave him a print out for the supplies needed to set up a work station at his home. The staff said if he got the supplies, they would come out to him and help set it up – no charge.

The students even visited with patients and took walks down the halls – making new friends as they went. They worked hard all week and experienced a very special spring break.