(Banner Photo: Snapshots from David Tart's Alternative Service Break experience in the Dominican Republic.)

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Department of History

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David Tart with children from the Dominican Republic, pushing a wheelbarrow, and working on a roof.

David Tart Shares His Volunteer Spirit On Alternative Service Break

David Tart likes to volunteer. A history major with a minor in aerospace studies, he says he likes the look on a person’s face when they realize “we are all on this Earth together and we all share things together.”

He got to see quite a few of those looks this past winter break while working in the Dominican Republic as one of 180 University of Idaho students who took part in the Alternative Service Break program in the 2009-2010 academic year.

Originally from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, his interest in the program was piqued by flyers on campus and by the recommendation of a friend. Although he applied to go to Romania, when he was assigned to the Dominican Republic, he tried to go in with an open mind.

“Knowing that someone is living in poverty and then seeing it makes everything different.”

Even so he was impressed with the spirit of the community.

“Something that surprised me was their capacity to find happiness in their life. The people are really friendly open and social. There was a connection in the community. Even if they didn’t have much from an outsider’s perspective, they seemed to make the best of it.”

Referred to by the local children as “Gigante Blanco,” (White Giant), David helped to build homes and a community center. The students also hosted a day camp for the kids – which he said was the most personally rewarding part of the trip. However, he adds that the entire service learning experience was personally transformative.

“I didn’t know I could question every aspect of my life in such a short time period: life, love, death, true happiness and on and on,” said Tart. “I didn’t know anything anyone was saying, but we still got along great. We were all just trying to make something better for us all.”

The Alternative Service Break program is one of many volunteer programs that University of Idaho student can participate in. In fact, 2009 marked the fourth consecutive year that University of Idaho students have earned a place on the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. It is the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement. In the same year, the University was recognized for the efforts of 2,196 students, collectively giving 136,624 hours of community service—which is most often equal parts joy and sweat.

The return on that investment is incalculable.

“I don’t think I could ever truly put into words all that happened,” said Tart. “It is something that I will not soon forget. The kids made the biggest impression, hands down. All they wanted to do was laugh. I still remember pushing them around in the wheelbarrow. It felt like I just won a million dollars, listening to them laugh.”