While many students hit the beach for a vacation from schoolwork, hundreds of University of Virginia students opted to use their week off to make a difference in a community.
They participated in one of the 29 trips organized by Alternative Spring Break, an entirely student-run service organization that has been conducting service projects during spring break since its founding as part of Madison House in 1992. This year the club sponsored 24 domestic and five international trips, ranging from the Ecuadorian rainforest to the Shenandoah Valley.
This year, the program added new destinations such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Zion National Park in Utah and Death Valley, California, while keeping favorites like maintaining trails in the Grand Canyon. (See this interactive map to see the locations and learn about the trips.)
Alternative Spring Break brings together students from across the University, many of whom may never have met otherwise, and gives them an opportunity to serve a diverse set of communities. The program is unique because of its emphasis on service learning; all of the trips include educational activities about the community, and site leaders hold daily reflections that help everyone to put their work into perspective.
“It’s pretty incredible how quickly participants tend to bond and open up about their predispositions, their opinions, the aspects of the week that challenged them,” said Caroline Trezza, president of the organization and a fourth-year American studies and economics major.
“We understand that we can’t change the world on a weeklong spring break trip, but by understanding our role in the community, we think that both sides can benefit,” she said. “So we encourage leaders and participants to transfer the lessons they learned from each other and the community members with whom they worked to their lives back at U.Va.”
Anyone who has served in ASB or in the newly launched Alternative Fall Break will attest that it’s more than volunteering; it’s about learning from teammates and communities, cultivating skills (from team communication to weed-whacking) and using the experience to continue making positive, meaningful change after the week comes to a close.
“I think the best part about ASB is that it fosters experiences and personal relationships that anyone can be a part of,” said Liz Holohan, who co-led the Shenandoah trip earlier this month – the third trip of her college career. “It’s a time when we all gain new insights that can be applied to other areas of our life, and it happens in very unexpected ways. … You start the trip just thinking you are doing something for fun over spring break, but then you come back realizing the trip meant so much more.”