Jan 302006
Authors: Sarah Mast

Some students find that their ideal way to spend Spring Break is serving others by taking part in the Alternative Spring Break Program.

"It's a life-changing experience," said Ashley Withington, a senior landscape architecture major.

Withington is a site leader for a group that is taking a trip to Panama this spring.

The focus of the group going to Panama is to work on building a deck for a restaurant in a small community and help build a trail in hope to draw in tourists and pull the community out of poverty.

Alternative Spring Break was created for students to provide different services in exchange for education about current social and cultural issues facing the host communities.

"Alternative Spring Break gives students a genuine service experience and a chance to make lifelong friends," said Jen Johnson, assistant director for Volunteer and Community Programs.

Each trip focuses on different types of community service activities that directly aid the community where they are working. Johnson said each trip includes 30 to 50 hours of community service and the rest of the time is spent on various fun activities and interacting with the community.

"The trips have a cross-cultural component," Johnson said. "You learn a lot about the people, culture, and for international trips, the language."

Trips in the past have focused on a variety of different social and cultural issues facing the community such as hunger, HIV and AIDS, housing, homelessness and the environment.

About 100 students participate in the Alternative Spring Break trips. Each trip includes two student site leaders and eight participants.

Past trips have included Colorado, New York, Washington, California, New Mexico, Wyoming, Illinois, Oregon, Arizona, Washington D.C., Texas, South Dakota and Minnesota.

"I think Alternative Spring Break is good because it gives students a chance to do something productive and give back to the community," said Ryan Feild, a sophomore Biological Science major.

Created in 1989, the program gives students a hands-on, experimental learning experience during Thanksgiving and spring breaks.

There are three different ways to participate in Alternative Spring Break. These include trip participants, site leaders and executive board members.

Students wishing to be a trip participant are required to fill out an application with the Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (SLCE) office in the fall.

Site leaders must commit to a full year with the program, starting the application process in the spring and go through a 15-week Site Leader School. Executive board members are designed to help the site leaders with the recruitment and training programs.

"It's a great experience," Withington said. "Once you do it, you get hooked."

Students looking to get involved for the fall and Spring Breaks next school year can contact the SLCE office at (970) 491-1682 for an application.

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