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Students Make Memories with Kids over Spring Break
UTB and TSC women's soccer team members Katherine Vega, Tabata Vieira, Karla Lozano and Jessica Santacruz.
UTB and TSC women's soccer team members (left to right) Katherine Vega from Bogota, Columbia, Tabata Vieira from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Karla Lozano from Brownsville and Jessica Santacruz from Asuncion, Paraguay are all smiles as Coach Nikola Barjaktarevic gives a high-five to one of the youngsters.
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – MARCH 15, 2013 – Women’s soccer team members Jessica Santacruz and Tabata Vieira at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College say going home for spring break was out of the question. Santacruz is from Asunción, Paraguay and Vieira hails from Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
However, the two say they had plenty of things to do during the break, such as catching up on their sleep, “maybe” venturing out to South Padre Island and definitely volunteering for Alternative Spring Break.
Alternative Spring Break is sponsored by the UTB and TSC Center for Civic Engagement and the Office of Student Life. This year marked the 9th annual Alternative Spring Break event and was the second year the program has worked in collaboration with the Brownsville Parks and Recreation Department.
“We participated in this last year, and everyone enjoyed it so much,” said women’s soccer coach Nikola Barjaktarevic, who recently received the 2013 Red River Athletic Conference Coach of Character Award. “It is a great program, and we knew we couldn’t let the kids down this year.”
Most of the youngsters who took part in the activities live in the Buena Vida neighborhood adjacent to the Parks and Recreation building, though the spring break program was open to any students out of school.
Tabata Vieira and Jessica Santacruz
ata Vieira and Jessica Santacruz demonstrate some basic soccer footwork for the children at Alternative Spring Break.
“Working with kids is fun for us, and it is good they can come to the community center and not just be sitting at home watching TV,” said Santacruz as she was demonstrating some warm-up exercises with the kids in the gym of the Parks and Recreation building.
Budding chess players were able to match wits with UTB and TSC Chess Team freshman member Oziel Juarez from Harlingen and UTB Chess Director Russell Harwood.
Other activities included painting and arts and crafts. Each station in the arts and crafts room offered a different item to make out of recycled materials.
Bilingual education graduate student Gilda Lire-Caldwell from Mexico City and special education graduate student Zelica Espinoza from Matamoros brought a toolbox full of paint and glitter and crepe paper to transform old bottles into decorative vases.
“Our participation is part of the service-learning component of one of our classes,” Lire-Caldwell said. “We chose to this event because we knew there were so many kids who needed a good place to go over the school break where they could do fun activities, and we could help them make something to take home.”
Healthy Communities of Brownsville joined the activities and gave a demonstration in composting. Employees from Resaca de la PAlma State Park on taught archery in Linear Park across South 7th Street.
Oziel Juarez and UTB and TSC Chess Director Russell Harwood
Chess team member Oziel Juarez engages in a game of chess with one of the youngsters participating in Alternative Spring Break activities at the Brownsville Parks and Recreation building. UTB and TSC Chess Director Russell Harwood watches the action.
Monday, March 11 featured a community health fair with free children’s vaccinations administered by UTB health professions students, nutrition classes conducted by Infant and Family Nutrition Agency, glucose and blood pressure screenings, and dental hygiene information from Rodeo Dental.
While all this was taking place, UTB art students were busy painting the exterior wall of the building facing the adjacent playground. By the end of the week, the team led by art education major Dana Pope and art major Rebecca Bonner transformed the wall into a vision reminiscent of a rainforest.
“Our collaboration with Brownsville Parks and Recreation has been such a fantastic match,” said Dr. Nikkie Hodgson, Director of the Center of Civic Engagement. “The facility on Tyler Street is a wonderful place where the neighborhood youth can feel safe and be surrounded by fun-filled activities that foster learning and healthy living.”
For more information on the Center for Civic Engagement, call 956-882-4300 or email
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