With spring comes our desire to shake the winter blues and think warm thoughts.
Major sporting events like NASCAR, March Madness and Spring training baseball can help us forget about those raw, blustery months. For the college student, especially in the Northern states, Spring Break has become a college ritual which drains the credit card while boosting the economies of beach cities in sunshine states.
As with all activities taken to excess, the heavy drinking that takes place can have serious consequences. Two years ago, Angie Ammon of Tampa never imagined that when daughter Molly left for her freshman college at the University of Florida, she would never again set foot in the family home.
After a night of binge drinking during her first Spring Break, Molly was put to bed by friends at 2 a.m. The 19-year old never woke up. With a blood alcohol level of .4, death was attributed to alcohol poisoning.
The unimagined grief of losing a child inspired Angie Ammon to wage a one woman awareness campaign to educate both parents, teens and tweens on binge drinking and the need for young adults to make smart choices after leaving the family nest.
She has many grim statistics to support her crusade. One in three youngsters begin drinking by the eighth grade and by age 18, two of every three say they've tried alcohol. A staggering 90 percent of underage drinkers are binge drinkers.
One point that Angie makes to her audience is that no young person should be considered unaffected or immune to the problem. Even if a teen or young adult claims that he or she isn't drinking, chances are they are around people who do. Peer pressure and heavy drinking present a deadly combination.
While stories like Molly Ammon's present a worst case nightmare for parents and grandparents, there are other students on our college campuses who are using Spring Break to make a positive difference. Howard University in Washington D.C. has a program called Alternative Spring Break, whereby student volunteers use their time to be constructive rather than destructive in society. Rather than drinking and lounging their time away at Florida bars and beaches, Howard students have been using their stored-up winter energy to help others.
The Alternative Spring Break is no walk on the beach. For years, Howard students have taken to the front lines to help people in places like New Orleans, parts of which are still in recovery from Hurricane Katrina, and Haiti, which is still rebuilding after the widespread destruction wrought by the earthquake of 2010.
There are endless opportunities to reach out to urban areas like Detroit, Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, where guns, drugs and gang violence are a way of life in numerous despairing neighborhoods. Some Howard volunteers also opt to use their time mentoring elementary children.
The rewards of such selfless service can't be measured. One youth coordinator who was working together with the Howard students in mentoring grade school students in Memphis was amazed at the impact they have had in inspiring young people and preparing them for the future.
He sums up the experience by stating that "giving selflessly is definitely a life worth living."
If only more spring breakers would grasp that truth, our society would be much better for it..
By Jim Zbick