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Students, traveling seniors volunteer vacation time

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Hamilton College students Joseph Coons, left, and Phil Conkling, right, cut drywall as Andrew Menges and Michele Kahn, center left and right, sand plaster on the ceiling Wednesday afternoon at a home on MLK St. The group of Alternative Spring Break students teamed up with local Habitat for Humanity volunteers for the week.

NATCHEZ — The beaches of Cancun and Panama City Beach might be top spring break destinations for many college students, but a few students from colleges around the country chose to come to Natchez this week to volunteer their time for worthwhile causes.

Students from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., Boston University and Agnes Scott College in Atlanta are spending their spring break this week volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and the Natchez Children’s Home through their schools’ alternative spring break programs.

Ten Hamilton students have been painting, putting up sheetrock and working with Habitat for Humanity to build a house for a single mother and her two children on Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

Caitlin O’Connor said the students were trying to help give the family a piece of the American dream.

“Giving someone a house is not just giving them an item, it’s giving them an identity and allowing them to create something for themselves through owning a home,” she said.

Andrew Menges said a spring break trip to the beach might have been fun, but he said he feels helping others and building connections with a new place and new people is more important and rewarding.

“And I am probably having just as much fun as I would if I was with my friends on the beach,” he said.

At the Natchez Children’s Home, a group of Boston University and Agnes Scott College students have been gardening, cleaning and working with students in the classroom this week.

BU student Anna Skipper said volunteering at the home gives the students the opportunity to do work that would last beyond their spring break.

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Joseph Coons, a student at Hamilton College, laughs with other students as they paint primer on a doorframe Wednesday afternoon at a home on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

“We’re doing things that are going to last forever, not just for a week,” she said.

Agnes Scott student Syedah Asghan said working at the children’s home has allowed the students to contribute to one of the most important aspects of a child’s life.

“Education is such a huge component that can help enable everyone, and anything we can do to help contribute to that is so important,” she said.

All of the students said they have enjoyed Natchez’s Southern hospitality, scenic downtown area, rich history and delicious food.

“Everywhere we’ve gone the Natchez community has been extremely welcoming, especially to our stomachs,” BU student Josh Crampsey said.

The volunteers helping out around the city are not all college students, though.

A group of retired seniors with the Roving Volunteers in Christ’s Service organization are spending the next few weeks helping out at the home renovating the thrift store, painting and spring cleaning.

RVICS is a non-denominational Christian organization of retired couples who travel the country and donate their labor to nonprofit Christian organizations.

RVICS member Keith Wyeth said his wife, Linda, and the group of five other couples from Michigan, Ohio and Iowa volunteer their time to serve the Lord by serving others.

Esther Kimball said she and her husband, Clyde, volunteer because the group’s work allows the home’s staff to focus on working with the children.

“If we do this kind of work, the people at Natchez Children’s Home can spend their time doing what they’re called to do through ministry,” she said.

The home’s facility and grounds director, Calvin Wactor, said he could not believe how much the students and the RVICS had helped accomplish at the home.

“They have done more in a week than I do all year,” he said laughing.

Natchez Children’s Home Executive Director Nancy Hungerford said the student and RVICS volunteers have truly been an immeasurable blessing to the home.

“This month is our 196th anniversary, and the only reason we have been able to stay open all these years is because of the kindness of all those who have donated and volunteered.”

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