Carlow students seeking support for alternative spring break project in Jamaica

PITTSBURGH – A dozen Carlow University students and chaperones were set to serve others in Jamaica as part of an annual Alternative Spring Break trip in March, but the COVID-19 quarantine crushed those plans.

However, chaperone Jen Roth, PhD, associate professor in Carlow’s Department of Psychology and Counseling, realized that although they couldn’t swing the trip physically, the ball was still in their court to help the Convent of Mercy Academy Alpha, an all-girls high school in Kingston, Jamaica, by sending items the girls had requested Carlow students bring with them, including tennis equipment for the Alpha school team.

Alternative Spring Break is conducted annually at Carlow by the Center for Mercy Heritage & Service’s Office of Mercy Service, offering students a variety of immersion experiences in lieu of a beach vacation. This year, three trips were planned to Sisters of Mercy-based programs in honor of the 90th anniversary of Carlow’s founding by the women religious. The other trips were to a border crossing respite center in Texas and a homeless outreach center in California.

“The trips were really connected to the ministries the sisters have around the world,” said Kate O’Brien, director of Mercy Service. “They’re definitely social justice warriors with programs all around the world.”

Roth has chaperoned Alternative Spring Break trips in the past and was intrigued when she learned the Alpha girls school had a tennis team.

“I sit on the board of a nonprofit tennis organization in Pittsburgh called the Highland Park Tennis Club,” she said. “It’s a showcase tennis club nationally for the U.S. Tennis Association, but I call it a multicultural club with a tennis problem.”

She reached out to club members, including vice president Frederick Crawford, who said they were excited to help because the trip and its donations matched the club’s mission to develop tennis and to raise funds for charitable and educational purposes both in the Pittsburgh area and worldwide. In addition to a $240 donation, club members donated tennis equipment.

Club member Rajeeta Bazaz said she emailed about 75 friends and contacts she met over the years.

“The cause spoke for itself, and it was near and dear to all of our hearts,” Bazaz said. “I cannot describe the outpouring of support and donations I received. Every day I carried bags and bags into my house, transforming my entire living room into a storage space for `the girls in Jamaica.’”

They netted so much tennis equipment – rackets, balls, clothing, shoes – in addition to the cutlery and tea towels the school also had requested that they now have 450 pounds of donations sitting on a pallet in the Carlow mail room waiting to be shipped.

Unfortunately, because of the change in the nature of the trip, the group lost a grant that was to pay for luggage overage fees to carry the items to Jamaica.

Roth and the students are now seeking monetary donations to send the equipment to Kingston on a container ship, a relatively inexpensive option at $750, uncovered by Lynn Rush, who works in Carlow’s mail room. The group is brainstorming fundraising possibilities so they can send the pallet south when international shipping resumes.

“Thankfully, tennis rackets won’t go stale,” Roth said.

To donate, contact Roth.

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