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A Spring of Hope

"You got involved in something larger than yourselves," Rich Harris told James Madison University's 2011 Alternative Spring Breakers when they gathered March 28 to talk about their March 5-12 experiences.

The director of Community Service Learning at JMU, the umbrella organization that includes the Alternative Break Program, commended members of the 35 teams for their service to others. Through the efforts of nearly 400 students, faculty and staff members, people in 13 states and seven foreign countries received volunteer assistance in health, education and environmental projects during Spring Break.

Several students took time from the evening's activities to share their experiences.

JMU students working with power tools.
Casa Familiar team members proved themselves handy with power tools as they built a large planter. Click on photo to see full size.

Jenn Bailey, junior, interdisciplinary liberal studies major (to prepare for a teaching career), and Heather Heishman, senior, health sciences major
Casa Familiar, San Diego, Calif.

Bailey and Heishman's team spruced up the Casa Familiar property for the nonprofit organization that focuses on immigration issues. Team members built planter boxes, talked with neighbors about an upcoming clean-up project and served meals at the San Diego Rescue Mission.

"We came in as 12 strangers with different perspectives and different life goals," Bailey said. "We're a family now. Going on these trips not only changes your own perspective, but also teaches you to learn about other people. We met so many incredible people. I think we made a difference by showing people that others care about them."

Heishman, who will graduate in December, was part of another ASB team in 2009 that volunteered at Operation Breakthrough, a day center for youths in Missouri. "Putting a trip together (as a student leader) was an indescribable experience," she said. "It teaches you so much about your strengths and weaknesses. You learn about the person you're working with. You gain so much from it."

"Our biggest goals for our trip were to see growth in our members and to make sure this was not a mountain-top experience, where, 'OK, we're going and we're going to have a great service week and that was fun, and we've moving on with our lives,'" Bailey said.

"We went on a border tour. The only word I can think of to describe how I felt is 'hollow.' There was a point in the tour where we were within shouting distance of Tijuana. There was a little girl's bike on a tarp roof and seeing that literally broke my heart. The only thing I could think about while we were there was 'is this girl getting an education? Does she have a chance to progress?' I'm really thinking about working with Teach for America."

Alexis Wu prepares a meal
Alexis Wu prepares a meal at Cafe 458 in Atlanta.

Alexis Wu, senior, media arts and design major, and Daveon McMullen, sophomore, psychology major
Cafe 458, Atlanta, Ga.

Wu worked as a waiter at "a little cafe where they serve Sunday brunch to the general population and during the week they serve the population of people who have mental or physical disabilities." After meals were served and enjoyed, Wu and her fellow volunteers morphed into listeners. "We sat down with the people and talked about their stories, their personal lives."

Her experience at Cafe 458, coupled with an Alternative Spring Break 2010 trip to Horizon House, a day shelter in Indianapolis, has informed Wu's perspective. "I found out there is a whole lot more to hunger and homelessness. Homelessness can happen to anyone, due to sickness, the wrong job, family problems."

"I've always been service oriented, but my experiences while at JMU have pushed me to become more educated about homelessness issues. Now, I know what I'm an advocate of and when I speak to people, I understand the issue and some of its root causes. I'm very interested in nonprofit organizations. I always want to do service."

McMullen observed that "the people I talked with at Cafe 458 seemed to have a lack of trust for family. A lot of the people felt like their families had somehow taken advantage of them. There were a lot of individuals who were dealing with substance abuse and were trying to get service to get help. They were trying to get better so they could go back to jobs and careers."

"I've been working with the homeless population since I was in middle school in Hampton," McMullen said. "I've been involved in soup kitchens and such through my church." That long-standing commitment to service, coupled with his participation in the ASB 2010 team's work at the LA Mission in Los Angeles, Calif., has influenced his career plans.

"My goal is to be able to treat individuals in the community, where they are dealing with substance abuse, depression or mental illnesses. I want to work in mental health intervention. I'm still trying to decide if I want to work in counseling or intervention and treating such as therapies."

"I'm also ready for more alternative breaks. I'd like to work with people dealing with AIDS next year."

Jamie Lose, senior, media arts and design, and Rebecca Simonds, senior, biology
Project Lazarus, New Orleans, La.

Lose and Simonds are veteran Alternative Break Program participants. As sophomores at JMU, they were both on the team that served in Montego Bay, Jamaica, working with the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill at its day center. During that experience, the students decided they wanted to serve as student leaders in their senior year.

"This year, we learned more about HIV and AIDS and the stereotypes that come with the disease," said Simonds. "We played games and did arts and crafts and did karaoke at Project Lazarus, which is a home, not a hospice. It's a place to get better."

"We also did some lawn maintenance and cleaning and gardening," Lose said. "Part of the job is to keep the place running effectively and efficiently. One of the Project Lazarus staff members told us that the point of volunteers is we shake up their day, we remind them that there is a world outside."

Living in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and observing the Alternative Break Program's substance-free policy and tradition wasn't a problem for the Project Lazarus team, the student leaders said. "We approached the week with the advice, 'Trust your group, trust yourselves, know a bad situation when you see one,'" Lose said. "Our students were so passionate about service that we weren't worried about being in New Orleans during Mardi Gras."

"In fact, on Mardi Gras, one of the Project Lazarus residents got to take us out into the city," Lose said. "He knew where to go that we could see it without being in it. So we got the experience plus an amazing day with a resident who got to show us something unique to his city."

"We were told by multiple staff and residents at Project Lazarus that there has not been a college group that's made connections with the residents like JMU has this year," Lose said. "That's a huge compliment. We all felt it, but to know that the week was special was wonderful."

Simonds and Lose believe their experiences during Spring Break influenced their lives for the months and years to come. "I'm living in Africa this summer working at an orphanage in a town that's been stricken with HIV and AIDS," Simonds said. "I definitely can't image going into it without having the background knowledge I gained at Project Lazarus. When we were there, we didn't feel like we were working with people who were sick. It changed my perspective and made me more prepared."

"This is such a unique opportunity in college to do something like this. It changed my whole college experience," Lose said. "In the future, I will keep traveling for sure. I'm getting certified to teach English as a foreign language, so I hope to travel and meet people who come from different backgrounds from me and learn to communicate with them and cut across that international or global barrier."

JMU Students who painted hallway
A hallway at the Sunshine Children's Center in Natchez, Miss., gets a fresh coat of paint from JMU team members. Click on photo to see full size.

Liz O'Malley, senior, communication sciences and disorders
Sunshine Children's Center, Natchez, Miss.

"At the Sunshine Center, we spent time with the kids being positive role models and helped paint and clean," said O'Malley, explaining that the center is a place for children who have been removed from abusive or neglected situations until foster care can be arranged. "They loved to play basketball with us. We went bowling and took a field trip to the Natchez Trace."

"I’m going to grad school in the fall and I'd like to continue service work wherever I go," O'Malley said. "Longer range, this spring's experience made me consider maybe adopting in the future or helping a foster child. All these kids just need someone to love them and they just don't have that."

Laura Wong and Jimmy Emmergy collect marine debris along the Kahuku coastline in Hawaii
Laura Wong and Jimmy Emmergy collect marine debris along the Kahuku coastline in Hawaii

Laura Wong, sophomore, hospitality and tourism management
Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii, Kahuku coastline

Wong learned more about the importance of cleaning up Hawaiian beaches by talking with local people about the effects of marine debris. "We received a lot of questions from the locals about why we were visiting Hawaii, and when we told them we were on a service trip, they immediately had a positive response and were both receptive and appreciative of our support for their community."

"In regards to our service work, I learned so much more about different types of plastic, what can be recycled and what cannot," Wong said. "I learned about where we obtain plastic, where it goes after it is 'recycled' or thrown away, and I learned about the harmful effects plastic has not only on the environment but also on the human body."

While in Hawaii, Wong's team viewed the 2010 documentary "Bag It," which explores our consumptive use of plastic and what we can do to remedy it.

The team also coped with an unforeseen threat when the Hawaiian Islands were placed under a tsunami warning following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of Japan on March 11. Due to fly out the next day, Wong and her teammates were aware of the warning but felt safe from their vantage near the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "No one was in panic, and everyone took our directions well and understood the situation. We did not take the tsunami lightly, and we felt very fortunate to have been in a good situation."

"Following this experience, I really would like to spread what I learned to others," Wong said. "I would like to first start off by making changes to my lifestyle (using reusable bags more often and for more products, being aware of what types of plastics I recycle, what I recycle), then I would like to educate those that are close to me and finally, I would like to inform the JMU community."

During the wrap-up meeting, Harris challenged the 2011 ASB participants to commit to sustained service to others. And, he said, they do not have to wait for another ABP trip to do so. "Everything you did on your Alternative Spring Break trip is here in our own backyard."

About the Alternative Break Program
ASB is part of JMU's award-winning Alternative Break Program, which coordinates opportunities for students to assist people while learning more about societal issues, including homelessness, education, immigration and health problems. The ABP, run through the university's Office of Community Service Learning, is composed of service trips at Spring Break and Thanksgiving, in May and on selected weekends throughout the year.

JMU's Alternative Break Program is a two-time recipient of the Break Away National Program of the Year award in recognition of the university's commitment to active citizenship. Break Away honored the JMU program in 2010 and 1999. The national nonprofit organization supports the development of quality alternative break programs by providing training and information to colleges and nonprofit organizations interested in creating lifelong active citizens.

Related Links:

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Alternative Thanksgiving Break 2010

November 2010

During Thanksgiving, most James Madison University students travel home to partake in the traditions of feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie and giving thanks. For the 34 people participating in JMU's Alternative Thanksgiving Break program this year, the holiday week will come with a helping of service across America in Georgia, Louisiana and California during JMU's Nov. 20-28 break.

"The Alternative Break trips provide a learning opportunity for students outside of the classroom and enable them to become enlightened, well-educated citizens," said Misty Newman, assistant director of Community Service-Learning at JMU. "The students interact with a different population, engage in a social issue and experience life at the poverty level. Not only do they gain a new perspective, but they also learn important leadership and team-building skills."

Samaritan House of Atlanta Inc. and Café 458
An 11-member team works at the agency that helps homeless men and women gain self-sufficiency. At Café 458, a restaurant that serves free meals to homeless people, the JMU team pitches in to help. The team also works with the Earning Dignity . . . Gaining Employment program by helping with employment workshops, resume writing and computer lessons. Each team member is paying $200 to participate.
Samaritan House of Atlanta

The Phoenix of New Orleans
An 11-member team focuses on hunger, homelessness and hurricane relief. The team helps to rebuild the damage that is still left from the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by rebuilding quality, affordable housing and strengthening the community in the lower Mid-City neighborhood in Orleans Parish. Each team member is paying $200 to participate.
The Phoenix of New Orleans

Joshua Tree National Park - Twentynine Palms, Calif.
A 12-member team, co-sponsored with University Recreation, travels to California to explore Joshua Tree National Park while camping and cooking outdoors. The group participates in tree productivity, planting restoration and biodiversity inventory collection. Team members are each paying $450 plus the cost of airfare to participate in the trip that also includes substantial hiking.
Joshua Tree National Park

From the first Alternative Spring Break in 1992, the JMU program has grown to encompass alternative break trips at Thanksgiving, Spring Break and May Break. The JMU program is the Break Away National Program of the Year for 2010 in recognition of the university's commitment to active citizenship. The program earned the same award in 1999 from Break Away, a national nonprofit organization that supports the development of quality alternative break programs at colleges and other nonprofit organizations.

Nov. 16, 2010

May 2010

JMU Team Bound for New Orleans for Hurricane Relief

Honor roll badgeFor the fifth consecutive year, a team of volunteers from James Madison University is traveling to Louisiana for the May Hurricane Relief Trip. A total of 56 students, faculty and staff are making the trip May 8-15 – immediately after JMU’s May 8 commencement.

The JMU Alternative Break Program team coordinates efforts with Camp Hope in Arabi, La., to assist with rebuilding homes and communities in St. Bernard’s Parish, Orleans Parish and New Orleans.

Team members pay $300 to participate in the weeklong relief trip. While in New Orleans, team members live at Camp Hope, a dormitory-style facility that was established after Hurricane Katrina to house students from throughout the United States who participate in alternative break programs.

Teams from JMU began volunteering to help clean up on the Gulf Coast in November 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. Since then, JMU teams have returned to the New Orleans area as the focus has shifted from cleaning up to rebuilding.

The May trip was established for JMU to maintain a consistent community service relationship with the New Orleans area. Volunteers have worked with such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, Louisiana Children’s Museum, the Green Project and NOLA Pet Rescue.

The May Hurricane Relief Trip is part of JMU’s popular Alternative Break Program, which also includes Alternative Spring Break and Alternative Thanksgiving Break. For more information, check http://www.jmu.edu/csl/abp/about.html

 

Spring 2010

 

 

Students Helping Honduras

During spring break 2010, 11 JMU students and one faculty member teamed up with Students Helping Honduras to build an education center, lay the foundation for an orphanage and tutor the children of El Progreso.

Video by Allison Gould ('10)
JMU Public Affairs

 

39 Teams Take JMU’s Service Commitment on the Road for Spring Break

About 400 people from James Madison University are heading to destinations throughout the United States and seven other countries to spend Spring Break, March 6-13, volunteering as tutors, shelter and maintenance workers, builders, and nutrition and health advisers to help people in need and to clean beaches and forest trails.

The 39 teams, each headed by two student leaders and accompanied by a learning partner, a JMU faculty or staff member who works alongside the students, are adding their own chapters to JMU’s well-established Alternative Spring Break program tradition. Part of the university’s Office of Community-Service Learning, the Alternative Break Program offers students opportunities to assist people while learning more about societal issues, such as homelessness, immigration and health problems.

“An overwhelming number of the students involved with the leadership this year are heavily invested in understanding the underlying causes that generate the need for their services,” said Dusty M. Krikau, assistant director of Community Service-Learning. “They are interested in their role as both servers and learners and are working hard to empower those around them to become active citizens within their communities.”

Students pay $250 to participate in one of 22 domestic trips and from $439 to $2,200 for one of 17 domestic-flying or international trips. Fundraising projects led by students helped defray some of the costs of the trips.

JMU also sponsors weeklong alternative break trips in May and at Thanksgiving. In 2009, 109 volunteers participated in JMU’s fourth consecutive Alternative May Break to continue rebuilding in the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast. A total of 56 people worked in Atlanta, Winter Park, Fla., Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Va., New Orleans and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona during Thanksgiving break.

The longstanding commitment of students, faculty and staff to the Alternative Break Program is a key factor in JMU’s recent inclusion on the 2009 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. JMU was chosen for the honor based on a series of selection factors including scope and innovation of service projects, percentage of student participation in service activities, incentives for service and the extent to which the school offers academic service-learning courses.

More information about JMU’s involvement in alternative breaks and service-learning and commitment to engaged citizenship is available at http://www.jmu.edu/service/.

 

Alternative Spring Break Trips:

California

Redwoods National Park, to focus on the environment
Crescent City

AIDS Project (new partner), to focus on HIV and AIDS
Los Angeles

LA’s Best (new partner) to focus on youth
Los Angeles

Casa Familiar, to focus on immigration
San Diego

Florida

Sea Base, to focus on the environment
Big Munson Island

Practical Academic Cultural Education Center for Girls, to focus on children and youth
Immokalee

East Coast Migrant Head Start (cosponsored with Graduate Psychology and the Ashby Learning Community), to focus on immigration and youth
Orlando

Habitat for Humanity (cosponsored with Canterbury Episcopal Campus Ministry), to focus on housing
Pensacola

Community Service Center, to focus on children and youth
Winter Park

InterFaith Hospitality Network (cosponsored with the Center for Multicultural Student Services), to focus on hunger and homelessness
Winter Park

Georgia

Café 458, to focus on hunger and homelessness
Atlanta

Hands on Atlanta, to focus on community wellness
Atlanta

Indiana

Horizon House (new partner), to focus on hunger and housing
Indianapolis

Louisiana

Project Lazarus, to focus on HIV and AIDS
New Orleans

Mississippi

Hands on Gulf Coast, to focus on hurricane relief
Biloxi

Sunshine Children’s Center to focus on children and youth
Natchez

Missouri

Operation Breakthrough, to focus on education and youth
Kansas City

Sheffield Place, to focus on youth and homelessness
Kansas City

The Bridge (new partner; cosponsored with the University Health Center and SafeRides), to focus on hunger and homelessness
St. Louis

New Mexico

Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area (cosponsored with University Recreation), to focus on environmental stewardship
Gila National Forest

New York

St. Luke’s Catholic School (cosponsored with Catholic Campus Ministry), to help in the classroom and with the afterschool program
South Bronx

North Carolina

LifeSpan, to focus on disability services
Charlotte

Teach for America (new partner), to focus on education and youth
Charlotte

Oklahoma

Cherokee Nation, to focus on children and youth
Tahlequah

South Carolina

United Methodist Relief Center (new partner; cosponsored with the Wesley Foundation), to do housing repairs
Georgetown

Point Pleasant, (new destination; cosponsored with Catholic Campus Ministry), to focus on housing

York Place, to focus on children and youth
York

Virginia

Lonesome Pine Office on Youth (new partner; cosponsored with Social Work 487), to focus on rural poverty and youth
Big Stone Gap

West Virginia

Appalachian Institute (new partner; cosponsored with the Interfaith Coalition), to focus on rural poverty
New Martinsville

 

International Trips:

 

Belize

ProBelize (new partner; cosponsored with Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication 400), to focus on community wellness and education
San Ignacio

Costa Rica

i to i meaningful travel (new partner; cosponsored with Catholic Campus Ministry), to focus on housing
San Ramon

Dominica

Ethnographic Experience in Dominica (cosponsored with Anthropology 395), to focus on community wellness
Paix Bouche

Dominican Republic

Orphanage Outreach, to focus on children and youth
Monte Cristi

Honduras

Organization for Youth Empowerment, to focus on education and youth
El Progreso

Students Helping Honduras (new partner; a national organization with a chapter at JMU), to focus on education and youth empowerment
El Progreso

Jamaica

Center for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill, to focus on health and homelessness
Montego Bay

Jamaica Adventure Secrets (new partner; cosponsored with Catholic Campus Ministry), to focus on children and youth
St. Andrew

Volunteer in Jamaica Opportunity Network, to focus on education and youth
Treasure Beach

Peru

Peru109 (new partner), to focus on community wellness and education
Trujillo

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March 1, 2010

Spring 2009

Spring Break, Alternative Style

Some venture to distant countries to teach orphaned children, some journey within the United States to feed homeless people and to clean polluted beaches, some remain in Harrisonburg to assist at a daycare center. All are James Madison University students, who instead of spending spring break on more traditional trips, choose to serve others in the Alternative Spring Break Program.

More than 400 JMU students, faculty and staff are spending their March 7-15 holiday serving others as volunteer workers.

A total of 34 teams, ranging in size from seven to 16 members, are engaged in a variety of human service, environmental and educational projects in California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, as well as Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jamaica and New Province Island in the Bahamas.

Each team is led by two student trip leaders, who plan the venture, and a learning partner who is a faculty or staff member at JMU. Participants on domestic trips within driving distance each pay between $250 and $350 to spend the week in service to others. For ASB volunteers traveling to more distant sites in the United States and abroad, airfare adds to the individual cost.

The JMU teams are fairly evenly split between trips requiring driving and flying, said Dusty M. Krikau, assistant director of Community Service-Learning at JMU who trains the trips' student leaders. For 15 weeks before their spring break ventures, the students work with Krikau to develop their skills to lead small groups into environments that range from urban to undeveloped. While many teams dispatch to volunteer assignments where they have housing provided, others, such as the group heading to Cayo Costa State Park in Florida, must pack all their supplies to live for a week without any supply source.

Domestic Driving Trips:

  • Café 458, Atlanta - to work in a restaurant open free to homeless people during the week
  • Camp Vacamas, New Jersey - to engage in activities with children from inner cities and to help the staff prepare the camp for summer
  • Cayo Costa State Park, Florida - to remove invasive plants and to clean the beach
  • Community Service Center, Winter Park, Fla. - to work with youth in after-school sports, arts and academic activities
  • The Fuller Center for Housing and Koinonia Farm, Georgia - to help build houses and to work on the farm's garden and grounds
  • Gay Men's Health Crisis, New York - to learn about the nonprofit group's fight against AIDS
  • InterFaith Shelter Network, Florida - to assist with meal preparations and to help children with homework (Partnership with the JMU Center for Multicultural Student Services)
  • LifeSpan Inc., Charlotte, N.C. - to work with children who have developmental disabilities and to complete minor maintenance work
  • Operation Breakthrough, Kansas City, Mo. - to tutor preschool children and to work in the center's warehouse
  • Practical Academic Cultural Education Center for Girls, Immokalee, Fla. - to tutor and to participate in after-school activities and to volunteer with girls at a local soup kitchen
  • Project Lazarus, Louisiana - to organize activities and to paint at the center that provides care for AIDS patients in a home-like setting
  • Sheffield Place, Kansas City, Mo. - to help with activities and maintenance at the shelter and support center for homeless single mothers and their children
  • Sunshine Shelter, Natchez, Miss. - to provide daycare and to work with other local organizations
  • Volunteers of America, New Orleans - to help rebuild homes devastated by hurricanes and to tutor children
  • York Place, York, S.C. - to work with emotionally troubled children
  • Harrisonburg/Rockingham County - to work with the United Way in various ways, including helping at the Elkton Area United Services, Generations Crossing and NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center, to work at the Salvation Army, Camp Still Meadows, Price Rotary Senior Center and Our Community Place, and to do river cleanup near Grand Caverns
  • Chavies, Kent. - to do emergency home repairs (partnership with Catholic Campus Ministries)
  • New Orleans - to help with hurricane relief work (partnership with Catholic Campus Ministries)

 

Domestic Flying Trips:

  • Casa Familiar, San Diego - to help in the Hispanic community and to gain new perspectives on the issue of immigration
  • Catalina Island Camps, California - to improve the natural environment of the island through invasive plant removal, trail building, landscaping, beach clean up and scientific data collection
  • Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah, Okla. - to work with the Head Start program and to do maintenance at the center
  • Community Collaborations International, Harris and Galveston counties, Texas - to help with construction activities, rehabilitation of existing homes and environmental projects
  • Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area of Gila National Forest, southwestern New Mexico - to work on trail and site maintenance projects (Partnership with University Recreation)
  • Oglala Lakota Nation, Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D. - to build bunk beds and to renovate and rehabilitate homes of the Lakota people
  • Redwoods National Park, California - to help with trail cleanup and maintenance, conservation efforts and bridge reconstruction
  • Sea Base, Big Munson Island, Fla. - to help with hurricane and environmental cleanup and restoration and to build boardwalks and walkways
  • Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah - to work on trail maintenance, including trimming of back branches and underbrush

 

International Trips:

  • The Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill, Jamaica - to help people in utilizing community resources
  • Las Cruces Biological Station, Costa Rica - to work on trail and garden maintenance, exotic species removal and garden inventory and to help with maintenance projects at two nearby schools
  • Orphanage Outreach, Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic - to teach English and other elementary-school courses, such as mathematics, science, reading and art
  • Organization for Youth Empowerment, Honduras - to work in the final stages of a leadership program developed for the youth to gain knowledge in the areas of Honduran politics, economics and education system
  • St. Andrews Home for Girls, Kingston, Jamaica - to work in construction and to help with the after-school program at the home and to assist with social services in the community (Partnership with Canterbury)
  • Sandy Bank Primary School, Treasure Beach, Jamaica - to promote reading among students who are reading below grade level
  • Uriah McPhee Primary School, New Province Island, Bahamas - to provide teambuilding programs using a portable low ropes course (Partnership with University Recreation)