It’s typical to spend spring break basking in the sun or relaxing, but some CU students plan to spend that week doing something much more philanthropic.
The Alternative Breaks program at CU just finished accepting applications for their volunteer program, which is offered during spring break.
Alternative Breaks offers opportunities for CU students to spend their spring break performing volunteer work around the country. The student group works with the Volunteer Clearing House and a program called “Breakaway” to provide the program to students.
“There are a variety of trips,” said Jessie Marek, a senior film studies major and member of the volunteer break board. “This year, the trips are concentrating on working with children and health issues.”
The program is offering four trips this year. Marek said they are planning trips to Minnesota and Texas to improve AIDS awareness, a trip to New Orleans and a trip to do work on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.
Marek went to Shiprock, N.M., last year to work on a Navajo reservation at a domestic violence shelter.
“It really changed some expectations I had had about victims of domestic violence,” Marek said.
Though there are a lot of groups at CU and in Boulder that offer similar philanthropic trips, Marek believes this is the only spring-break-specific trip offered through the university.
Sophomore political science major Victoria Anne Young went to New Orleans last year on spring break. She did not go to celebrate Mardi Gras, but to build houses. She participated in the program through her church.
“It was an enriching experience,” Young said. “What is amazing about the trip is that when we met the local citizens that had returned, they had hopes higher than the clouds above and were so pleasant to work with, even after all they had been going through. It taught me a lesson of hard work and devotion to many aspects of life.”
Sophomore international affairs major Joseph McCalley said spending spring break doing volunteer work is a tough job but a good experience. He worked with Young on the trip to New Orleans.
“I got to go see downtown New Orleans; that was fun,” McCalley said. “Actually, there wasn’t a lot of down time. You got up at 6 a.m. and worked until 8 p.m., so you wanted to go to bed at night because you were so tired. But it was definitely a valuable experience.”
Young and Marek both claim that even though valuable volunteer work was a main priority of their different trips, it was not the only positive outcome. They both mentioned that the best part of their experiences had to deal with the relationships they strengthened and friendships they made.
“You just get to meet people in a different situation than in class or at work,” Marek said.
Even though interest in volunteering is necessary, Marek mentioned there are no specific qualifications for applying to the Alternative Breaks program.
“There are no qualifications, really,” Marek said. “You just have to want to go somewhere and help people for a week.”
Marek said one of the main goals of the program is growth and development. She also said application and interest has really picked up this year. There were 80 applicants for the 60 available volunteer spots, and 21 people applied for the leader spots, which are available to eight people.
“It’s a really cool program, and I’m really happy to see that it is picking up here,” Marek said. “There are programs around the country where they are taking 20 spring break trips. There’s enough people and enough interest to send that many people out.”
Though applicants don’t get to directly choose where they are going, they are able to list their preferences. Once accepted into the program, Marek said the trip costs students around $200 to $250. The program also utilizes fundraisers to lower travel costs.
“We’re trying to get an international trip going. There are programs around the country at different universities that do international trips; that’s one of our ultimate goals,” Marek said. “That would be so cool.”
Students who applied for the Alternative Breaks program will find out in a few weeks whether they have been accepted.
“A spring break trip is such an awesome opportunity to give some things back,” Marek said. “Living in Boulder, we are just amazingly privileged, and it’s easy to forget about that.”