A different kind of spring break

Posted: Friday, March 10, 2000

Is Kenai becoming the new destination spot for college students on spring break? Not quite.

However, 10 students from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., have been in Alaska for a week and in Kenai since Wednesday night.

"It's alternate spring break," said junior Renee Clisch, while transplanting begonias at the Kenaitze greenhouse near Beaver Loop in Kenai.

There are about seven different destinations civic-minded students could choose besides Alaska, such as Oklahoma, Belize and Florida.

"This is alternate spring break in that we do community service," said sophomore Megan Murphy. "It's also an alternate to Fort Lauderdale."

Murphy said she is enjoying the weather in Alaska this week, despite all the ice. Clisch noted that it was 70 degrees back in St. Louis.

"I didn't know what to expect when I came up here, and neither did my mom," Murphy said. "So I came prepared for the worst."

The students were going to Anchorage for alternate spring break anyway, but then the daughter of Kenai's Peggy Moore, who also attends Washington University, suggested they visit the peninsula as well. Moore, director of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, was recruited by her daughter to set up volunteer activities for the students.

"They're not going to do much at the food bank," Moore said. "I'm trying to spread them out, trying to give them a broad experience in our community."

Since Thursday, the students have been volunteering at the Kenaitze greenhouse, Bridges Community Network, Heritage Place and Kenai Grace Brethren Church.

Moore said students would be helping renovate a building at the church, cleaning and organizing at Bridges, and doing housekeeping and maintenance for the senior citizens at Heritage Place.

During their stay, the students will get to watch a Native dance presentation by the Kenaitze Tribe and hear about Kenai's wildlife from Ted Spraker of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Murphy said she was thrilled by a personal wildlife experience Thursday morning -- seeing her first moose.

"I heard they exist, but this was the first time I saw one," she said.

Murphy and Clisch also got to see the mountains and volcanoes across Cook Inlet and will visit Homer Saturday morning before flying back to St. Louis that evening.

While in Anchorage, the students saw the ceremonial start of the Iditarod then drove to Knik to watch the racers go by.

"That was the real thing," Clisch said.

Murphy said they also went cross-country skiing, saw the northern lights, toured the Native Heritage Center and dined with Washington University alumnus while in Anchorage.

The work they did there was just as varied as their leisure time activities. Some of them volunteered at the Red Cross, the Anchorage women's shelter and the Brother Francis Shelter, where they served food to the homeless.

"We also washed their mats and floors," Clisch said.

Clisch and Murphy said the students had to raise their own funds to come to Alaska.

Moore, who is hosting eight of the 10 students in her home, said the visitors definitely are pinching pennies.

"It's inspiring to me," Moore said. "It saves them from Florida."

Clisch said she was from Dallas and spent many years just a short distance from the beach in Florida, so she didn't miss going someplace like Fort Lauderdale for spring break.

Since their days have been so filled with work and educational activities, the group has not been able to experience the night life so common on other spring break excursions.

"We are so busy that by 11 o'clock we just want to go to sleep," Murphy said.

This year is the first time either Clisch or Murphy have participated in alternate spring break. Last year Clisch said she just went back home to Dallas, and Murphy said she took a one-credit course on deserts and spent spring break in the Mojave Desert.

Alternate spring break at Washington University is a program of the campus affiliate of the YMCA and YWCA of greater St. Louis.

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