Every year Colorado State University students devote their spring break to community service and social and cultural education by participating in CSU’s Alternative Break program. This year, 110 students will be traveling to one of 10 destinations to assist in a wide variety of service projects. Colorado State University’s spring break week begins on Monday, March 16.
"Alternative Spring Break gave me a lot of experience in leadership as a whole as well as learning to hone my interrelationship skills," said Sam Bowersox-Daly, a student at Colorado State. "This year I have an incredible group and really hope to learn a lot about the people we are going to meet and those in my group. Lasting relationships and a true educational experience are what I look forward to gaining."
The Alternative Break program is an immersion experience into different cultural, environmental and socioeconomic communities across the nation. Teams of students provide service in exchange for education about current social and cultural issues facing the host communities. The program is designed to create active citizens who make the community a priority when making life choices.
"I wanted to step outside of the traditional college experience and do something," said Ian Krammer, a Colorado State alternative spring break leader. "College can often be a lot of discussing issues and talking about what is happening, but does not necessarily get you out doing it. Alternative Breaks provide that opportunity by sending you and eight to 12 other highly motivated, excited students to go out into the world and do relevant work through teaching, learning and sharing."
Alternative break is not simply volunteerism. The program is intentionally designed to be mutually beneficial to both communities and students. While the communities benefit from tangible work completed, the students gain a broader understanding of the world around them.
"In San Juan I got to work with some amazing people that recently immigrated into the United States that taught me how to build walls for prefabricated homes," said described Kathryn Quillin, the Alternative Break student coordinator. "I also got to see first-hand what it is like to live in a colonia. There were houses made out of scrap sheet metal, and children living in the harshest of living conditions, all in my own country."
Students often return gaining a deeper sense of the complexity of social issues and a stronger commitment to resolving root causes of problems. Many students have hailed the experience as fundamentally life-changing and the best week they have ever had.
"I apply so much of what I have learned on alternative breaks in my daily life," said Quillin. "I am a sociology and social work major so it is very easy for me to tie my experiences into my courses. I also use my memories to help me cope with life when things seem a little rough."
The destinations this year include:
-Achiote, Panama: Students will focus on environmental conservation and ecotourism with construction and environmental projects with CEASPA, a local organization.
-Catalina, Calif.: Students will focus on environmental issues including trail building and repair, environmental education projects and landscaping.
-Independence, Calif.: While working in partnership with CSU’s Asian Pacific American Student Services, students will learn about and help preserve the Manzanar National Historic Site, one of the sites where Japanese people were interned during World War II.
-Kanab, Utah: Students will volunteer at the Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals.
-Kissimmee, Fla.: Students will work with Give Kids the World, an agency that helps fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses by working as amusement park ride operators and concessions stand monitors at the Give Kids the World Village.
-Maryville, Tenn.: Students will work with Once Upon a Time, an agency whose mission focuses on the Cherokee Nation and rural Appalachia, in preserving the natural environment in this biosphere and assisting the community.
-New Orleans, La.: Students will help support disaster relief by rebuilding homes in St. Bernard Parish, in partnership with the United Way and the St. Bernard Project.
-Omaha, Neb.: Students will work with the Lutheran Refugee Services to help refugees make a smooth transition to their new home in the U.S. by providing interpretation, tutoring and assistance finding housing and work.
-Scottsdale, Ariz.: Students will support the efforts of the Rancho Feliz Charitable Organization, a nonprofit whose goal is the "democratic redistribution of opportunity" for the disadvantaged children and families living near the U.S.-Mexico border.
-Washington D.C.: Students will provide services to the residents of the nation’s largest transitional homeless shelter, the Community for Creative Non-Violence, located just a few blocks from the Capitol Building.