Mar 082007
Authors: Valerie Hisam

For Shelly Peitzmeier, spring break will be a far cry from the drunken bikini beach parties seen on MTV.

Last year, she tossed the idea of the clich/ party break for a more noble cause-aiding those who have been affected by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in fall 2005.

It’s called “Alternative Spring Break.”

“I think that sometimes it is very easy to disconnect and forget that there is a whole world outside of our own lives,” she said. “These alternative breaks help us reconnect with communities and give back.”

Peitzmeier, a junior psychology major, joined a service group and traveled to New Orleans to help families build livable homes.

And she wasn’t the only student helping out.

Peitzmeier is involved with Student Leadership and Civic Engagement, located on the second floor of the Lory Student Center, and is going on one of eight service trips that will take place over spring break.

SLCE Alternative Breaks groups will involve almost 100 students. They will go to eight different locations to help with service projects, including building a boardwalk in Panama, helping with the HIV/AIDS project in New York, caring for the homeless in Washington, D.C., and refurbishing a children’s camp in the Catalina Islands.

The Alternative Breaks program was established over a decade ago and continues to grow. Now the program offers eight trips, two of them international. Each group consists of two site leaders who were selected in the previous spring to lead 10 to 20 student volunteers.

The site leaders like Peitzmeier, who is going on the trip to the Catalina Islands next week, and their groups have been meeting and planning their individual trips since September, as well as coordinating fundraisers and creating group bonding activities.

“It’s practical and relevant leadership training,” said Jen Johnson, SLCE assistant director and volunteer and community programs director. “Students are often surprised by how much they learn about themselves.

“It causes a lot of introspection and a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.”

And most of the students said their alternative spring break experiences were more fulfilling than staying home or going somewhere to party.

“There are always the opportunities to go party,” said senior Erinn Criswell, an English major and site leader for Panama trip. “It is a very rare opportunity to do something positive with the precious spring break time.”

“Its clich/, but it’s doing something other than the typical Cancun trip,” said Gregory Graham, a sophomore international studies major and site leader for the Catalina Island trip. “You can do that any weekend. This is showing that college students care.”

As for the participants, the feelings of doing something more worthwhile with their spring breaks are mutual.

“This is my first alternative spring break,” said Jess Dyrdahl, a senior political science major. “I’ve done every other type of spring break, but this one is something different.”

Not all of the students involved fancy themselves philanthropists. For junior philosophy major Andy Lopez, it was a way “to keep me out of trouble and fill my time positively.”

This will be Lopez’s third trip with SLCE, and this time he is one of the site leaders going to Washington, D.C.

“It’s not what you get in a class,” Lopez said. “It is a great living and learning experience where you can do something productive.”

“All you can do is learn and take action where it is needed,” Peitzmeier said. “Alternative breaks are a great way to take a plunge into service and meet a ton of new people. I would recommend it to anyone who is really interested in service work and having a great time.”

Staff writer Valerie Hisam can be reached at


What you need to know:

-Pick up an application. Any students are welcome to apply.

-Visit the SLCE office in room 195 of the LSC, visit the Web site at or call at 491-1682.

-Cost is anywhere from $200 to $1,800.

-There are eight trips taken over spring break.

-There will be three trips taken this summer to San Jose, Calif., New Orleans, La., and Hillsboro, W.Va.

– Summer trip applications are due today (Friday, March 9).

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.