GREENFIELD — Trisha Puniani doesn’t think about it as “giving up” her spring break.
On the contrary, the Michigan State University student is glad to have a calendar full of things to do this week, even if it means getting her hands dirty.
About 40 MSU students traveled to Hancock County Sunday to volunteer as they kicked off a spring break road trip dedicated to community service.
At the group’s Greenfield stop, students cleaned, painted and organized the WEARhouse Thrift store, a second-hand shop whose proceeds support the county’s homeless shelter, Hancock Hope House.
Greenfield was the second stop on the route from Michigan to Georgia for the MSU chapter of Students Today, Leaders Forever, a national leadership organization for college students. The students began their trip with a day of volunteering at Mercy Home in Chicago, an organization that serves at-risk children, before coming to Greenfield
Puniani, 22, a first-semester graduate student at MSU, is one of the 40 who hopped a charter bus last weekend to make good use of her week off school.
“It definitely gives you a chance to do something you wouldn’t do,” she said.
The Students Today, Leaders Forever goal is to develop leadership skills in students by encouraging them to build relationships with one another as they work together on service projects.
Hope House spokeswoman Cindy Miller spent her Sunday with the group and praised the students for their hard work.
Hope House has no connection to MSU, Miller said; the shelter’s thrift store was just lucky to have landed on the students’ radar.
Students homed in on area needs by utilizing Connect2Help 2-1-1, a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities.
“We were really lucky to have them,” Miller said. “We’re truly grateful.”
The thrift store depends on volunteers to help staff the shop, and those workers rarely have time to give the building a deep cleaning. That’s where the students came in handy on Sunday, Miller said.
They moved displays to mop and dust areas that don’t always get as much attention as they should.
“We can’t necessarily do that every day with customers … and not having enough volunteers here in the store,” Miller said. “To have 40 students here, it was great for us. They did everything we asked.”
While the snowstorm cut the students’ time at the store somewhat short, 40 extra pairs of hands can make a big difference in a short amount of time, Miller said.
That’s something the students are learning firsthand on their trip.
“People are very appreciative of the work,” said Ali Van Overbeke, 20, a sophomore. “We love that people are welcoming us into their organizations and letting us help out.”
The service projects often require the students to be up early and ready to get on the road, said Connor Kerndt, a sophomore.
But the early hours haven’t slowed anyone down.
“Most people I know would skip classes before 10 o’clock, so it’s interesting how everybody’s really motivated,” he said.
There are three buses from MSU making their way to Atlanta this week, and each has a unique route with different projects scheduled along the way.
Students who came to Greenfield Sunday also have plans this week to work in city parks in Louisville, Ky.; clean hiking trails in Knoxville, Tenn.; and serve at a homeless shelter in Chattanooga, Tenn.
When the students reach Atlanta, they’ll attend a Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow conference and finish the trip with one final service project, the details of which remain secret until they arrive.
The trip cost each of the students $400, but what they’re giving back is priceless, Miller said.
“We had an amazing day with them,” she said. “They’re a great caliber of individual to come and spend their time here with us. It was amazing.”