DIGGING IN | Alternative spring break trip leader Nate Bozarth and Emilie Patterson, one of seven other students who made the trip to Dallas with Bozarth, put their shovels to work doing landscaping work at AIDS Services of Dallas’ Hillcrest House. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

KSU students spend a week at AIDS Services Dallas as part of alternative spring break program

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor

When Nate Bozarth signed up to participate as a trip leader in the alternative spring break program at Kansas State University, his first choice was to go to Louisiana to help with ongoing efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina six years ago.

Then he realized that the Louisiana trip had two leaders assigned to it, while there was no leader assigned for the group coming to Dallas to volunteer at AIDS Services of Dallas.

“I saw that, and I said, ‘Why do you have two assigned to Louisiana when there’s no one for Dallas?’ I told them to switch me to Dallas,” Bozarth said. “Now, I am really glad it happened that way. I am glad I came to Dallas.”

Volunteering is not a new experience for Bozarth, a sophomore majoring in cultural anthropology and minoring in leadership studies. He said he works to help raise funds for an organization that builds schools in Pakistan. And last year, he spent his spring break building trails — yes, literally building trails — in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee.

But this is his first real experience involving HIV/AIDS and people living with the virus.

“In health class in school, we talked some about safe sex and we talked about the medications people who have AIDS have to take, but not much else. That’s the most I really knew about it,” he said. “So I am really looking forward to learning more about AIDS, to seeing how it really affects people on a daily basis and to gaining a new perspective.”

Bozarth is the student leader for a group of eight (including him) KSU students who are spending the week here volunteering at AIDS Services of Dallas. He explained that the group was originally scheduled to arrive in Dallas on Sunday, March 20, and go back to school on Friday, March 25.

But when Bozarth talked to Mary Beth O’Connor, ASD’s volunteer services manager, those plans changed.

GIVING BACK | Anna Rogers, foreground, Alex Noblett and Meghan Kelly plant gladiola bulbs in a flower bed outside AIDS Services of Dallas’s Hillcrest House. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

“She asked me what days we would be here, and when I told her we were leaving Friday, she said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad! I wish you could be here Saturday to participate in the No Tie Dinner.’ And I said, then we will be there Saturday,” Bozarth said.

So the students made the nine-hour drive from KSU to Dallas on Tuesday and will leave on Sunday morning, giving them the chance to work on Friday helping set up for the No Tie Dinner and Dessert party, and then volunteering at the party itself on Saturday.

Bozarth was, he added, especially excited to get the chance to participate in ASD’s annual fundraising gala, because he has participated in other fundraising events and is glad to have the chance to “get another perspective” on the experience.

Bozarth said that the cost to participate in the alternative spring break program at KSU is $250 a student, although the college does have some scholarship funds to help students who want to participate but can’t afford it. Usually most of that money is spent on housing and feeding the students during their week of volunteer work.

On this trip, though, the students are being housed for free at Spencer Gardens, one of ASD’s several housing projects, and ASD is providing meals for them, too. As a result, the money that would normally have covered the cost of housing and food is not being spent.

“But instead of it just automatically coming back to us, the students, it’s all going to be donated to AIDS Services,” Bozarth said with a proud smile.

Bozarth — who said when he finishes school he wants to “work with poor people; I want to help people and I want to love people”— at first sounds too good to be true. But spend just a few minutes chatting with the other seven students — who spent the first part of their week in Dallas landscaping around ASD’s Hillcrest House — and it quickly becomes obvious Bozarth’s altruism is real, and it is shared.

Alex Noblett is a sophomore majoring in chemistry who is also “sort of pre-med.” He spent the week volunteering at ASD because “my spring break was open, and it just seemed like this would be a pretty good thing to do.”

Noblett said he wasn’t familiar with ASD, so when he started trying to decide which trip to register for, “I looked online to see what this place is about, and I really liked what I saw. So I chose this trip.”

Freshman Macy Warburton, studying political science and leadership studies, said she wanted to participate in alternative spring break because “service is very important to me, and I like being able to give back.” But like Bozarth, the ASD trip was not her first choice for alternative spring break.

“But now that I am here, I am really glad this is the trip I got. This is really opening my eyes to what it’s like to live with AIDS on a daily basis,” she said.

Stephanie Wilson, another freshman, is a health major who also is a student ambassador for the leadership studies program at KSU. For her this alternative spring back trip is “the perfect opportunity to give back to the community.”

Grant Langhofer, a sophomore kinesiology student at KSU, explained that he grew up in the relatively insulated environment of Wichita, Kansas, and he wanted to volunteer this week at ASD “because I thought I could get the most out of this trip. I talked to my advisor, and this was my only choice for alternative spring break. For me, it was come here [and volunteer at ASD] or nothing.”

Sophomore biology major Emilie Patterson chose to participate in alternative spring break because she wanted to have more opportunities to volunteer, and she chose to come to Dallas “because I have been to Texas before, and I like it here.”

Meghan Kelly, a sophomore pre-med student majoring in microbiology, had a friend in high school whose father had AIDS. So while she had an idea of how the virus affects a person, she said, she never talked much about it with her friend or the friend’s father.

“I chose to come on this trip because, first of all, I love volunteering. And I had researched AIDS Services and it just seemed like the most interesting of all the trips,” Kelly said.

“First of all, it gives me a chance to see how people in an urban environment like this live with AIDS, to see how it is different for people in the city than for people who live in the country,” she continued. “Plus, I had never had any experience working with a nonprofit agency [like ASD]. It’s really amazing to me see everything they have to offer.”

Microbiology student Anna Rogers is a junior, and she is the most experienced alternative spring break volunteer, since she has participated in the program all three of her college years so far.

She is also the most experienced when it comes to AIDS Services.

“I was here [at ASD] two years ago, during my first alternative spring break when I was a freshman, and I am really happy to have the chance to come back,” Rogers said. “When I came [to ASD] two years ago, I knew the science of AIDS. I knew how you got it. But that was the first time I saw how people actually live with AIDS. I could see for myself that they are people just like anyone else who just happen to have this disease, but they can still live and enjoy themselves in a positive environment.”

Bozarth explained that the alternative spring break trips are administered at KSU through the school’s leadership studies program, and that the leadership studies program is designed to help create “knowledgeble, ethical, caring, inclusive leaders for a diverse and changing world.

“Some people think leadership is something you are either born with or you aren’t; you have it or you don’t. In this program, we believe leadership can be taught, that everyone has the capacity, everyone is a leader in some capacity or another,” Bozarth said. “that’s why we are here this week, to learn more about how to be leaders and to try to give back to other people.

“But the truth is, we are the ones gaining,” he said. “I bet we are probably gaining more ourselves on this trip than we could ever possibly give.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.