Thursday, March 18, 2010

Students Exchanging Sand for Service

As the middle of March quickly approaches, there is one thing on the mind of college students across the United States: Spring Break. While infamously known as a week when college students flock southward for sun, sand, and parties on the beach, many college students are using their week off from school to do something worthwhile and serve communities in need instead.

Known as Alternative Spring Break, college students organize service trips to communities both in the United States and abroad, and spend the week aiding disaster relief, building homes, feeding the homeless, and implementing various other projects benefitting the community.

More and more colleges and universities across the United States are offering a variety of Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips to their students every year. ASBs give students a chance to learn more about themselves outside of the classroom, and see firsthand how their service benefits the community in which they volunteer.

These spring break experiences open up young adults to a breadth of social issues, and inspire them to go beyond their week of service and take action in their own communities. Break Away, a non-profit dedicated to supporting colleges, universities, and other non-profit organizations in the implementation of ASB programs, trains and assists these organizations in the hopes that their service-learning programs will create “lifelong active citizens.”

ASB trips reached a peak in popularity after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged New Orleans and left thousands of Americans with their homes and livelihoods destroyed. The destruction that was left after these hurricanes hit close to home and motivated thousands of college students to rally together and help in the relief and recovery efforts (To read more about youth aiding relief and recovery efforts, check out our previous blog entry, Young People Supporting Relief and Recovery Efforts).

According to U.S. News and World Report, one of the most popular ASB destinations is New Orleans, where students spend their time rebuilding the city after the devastation of the hurricanes. Haiti will also most likely prove to be the destination of many ASB groups in future spring breaks to aid in the relief and recovery efforts after an enormous earthquake decimated the small country earlier this year.

Other organizations aside from colleges and universities are also promoting ASB opportunities for young adults. For the past 20 years, Habitat for Humanity has organized a year-round alternative break program for students, called the Collegiate Challenge. Habitat for Humanity offers groups of 5 or more, ages 16 and older the chance to work with one of the 250 Habitat affiliates for a week, building houses and working to eliminate housing poverty in America.

For the past 5 years, United Way has provided ASB programs for young adults to make a difference in communities across the country. This year, United Way is joining forces with Deloitte for Maximum Impact: Deloitte Alternative Spring Break” and is teaming up 30 students from colleges across the country and 20 Deloitte employees for service projects around the country, including a trip to Biloxi, Mississippi, to continue rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Katrina.

Here are a few more examples of Alternative Spring Break activities taking place this year:

  • Hamilton College’s ASB program is celebrating its 18th year of service trips, ranging from activities such as building homes with Habitat for Humanity, to passing out meals to the homeless and tutoring children in elementary school.
  • Students from Vassar College in New York and Duquesne University in Pennsylvania are traveling to Central Florida to build homes as part of Habitat’s Collegiate Challenge.
  • UT Dallas is offering 11 different trips this year, focusing on different social issues that face communities. Some examples are traveling to Oklahoma and working with the Sequoyah Bay State Park in environmental conservation efforts, and traveling to Texas and working with the Southern Animal Rescue Association and aiding in animal rescue and protection projects.
  • The University of Richmond’s Collegiate Disaster Relief Team will be spending their 5th consecutive spring break in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans working on hurricane relief efforts
  • 300 University of Iowa students are volunteering at inner-city elementary schools in Chicago and working on literacy projects with the students.

There are many other Alternative Spring Efforts engaging students throughout the US this year. Do you have other examples of Alternative Spring Break programs to share? We would love to hear them! Please share your stories in the comments below.

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