Through Alternative Winter Break service work, students to use arts to help patients cope


For seven Rowan University students, winter break will include a week of service using the arts to assist people with life-threatening illnesses.

Forget skiing in the Poconos, traveling to Cancun or catching up on sleep.

For seven Rowan University students, winter break will include a week of service using the arts to assist people with life-threatening illnesses.

As part of Rowan's first-ever Alternative Winter Break, the students--all young women--will travel to Gainesville, Fla., where they'll volunteer with the Shands Healthcare Arts in Medicine Program at Shands Hospital. The hospital is affiliated with the University of Florida Health Science Center.

According to its web site, the Arts in Medicine Program is a comprehensive art program built upon the belief that art is an integral part of the healing process.

The students' work in Florida Jan. 9-15 will be varied. They'll pitch in to help with the Wilmot Gardens Restoration Project, which provides a peaceful, relaxing place for patients at Shands. They'll dance with senior citizens and with people with Parkinson's disease, conduct art workshops for pediatric in-patients, do visual arts workshops for cancer patients, and even participate in a musical concert for patients undergoing bone marrow transplants.

Interestingly, no student in the group is an art or music major. But they all share a genuine interest in service and the power the arts can play in the healing process.

"I'm interested in a career in music therapy," says Ashleigh Wendell, a sophomore health and exercise science major from Bayville. "Ideally, I'd like to graduate and work for an organization such as the American Cancer Society.

"I think music can play a big role when people are going through issues, such as a terminal illness. It helps patients focus their attention. I've never been involved in any other service work here at Rowan, but when I researched this Alternative Winter Break program, I knew I wanted to be involved and help make a difference."

Sophomore human resource management major Tracy Tirrell of Mullica Hill agrees.

"The art program we will be working in at Shands sounds like an awesome way to connect with people," says Tirrell. "I revel in volunteer work. I find it very fulfilling to help others. Also, I thought the trip would give me a chance to meet more students from Rowan's campus."

As with all programs presented through Rowan's Office of Service Learning, Volunteerism & Community Engagement, the Alternative Winter Break program includes a time for shared reflection by student participants.

That's an important part of service learning at Rowan, according to Andrew Perrone, assistant director of Service Learning, Volunteerism & Community Engagement.

"Our mission is to provide students with opportunities to learn through community service, but it is also part of our mission to challenge students to examine their experiences and grow to have a deeper understanding of themselves and their communities," says Perrone.

"Taking the time to reflect on their days of service and discuss what they are experiencing with fellow students is integral to the learning we promote at Rowan."

While students are going to Florida to volunteer, senior psychology major Alexandra Iliescu of Glassboro says she's certain all participants will learn more about themselves through their service experiences.

"I love experiencing new adventures and discovering new things about myself," she says. "When I received an email about Alternative Winter Break, I knew this is exactly what I needed to do."

In addition to Wendell, Tirrell and Iliescu, students participating in Rowan's Alternative Winter Break include: Wendy Lopez (student leader), a junior psychology major from North Bergen; Kristen Palmieri, a sophomore psychology major from Bridgewater; Lauren Wederich, a sophomore marketing major from Belle Meade; and Margaret Patterson, a special education major from Somerdale.

Kristina Curro from Rowan's Academic Success Center is the adviser to the group.